When Mos Def (now Yasiin Bey) and Talib Kweli dropped their Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star album in 1998, the plan was never to form something permanent — but try to tell that to the legion of fans that have championed the duo since they formed 15 years ago.
“It was definitely a one-time thing; it was definitely a project,” Talib told MTV News as we rode down Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn in a dollar van, a nod to the group’s first music video, “Definition.” In that clip, he and Mos rapped from a similar van, a popular mode of public transportation in New York City outer boroughs.
“Even though we didn’t envision Black Star as a group per se, it became a group,” he admitted. “Once the music was created and it came out, once people responded and it resonated with people the way that it did, you can’t tell nobody Black Star wasn’t a group.”
The LP will turn 15 years old on September 29, and hip-hop heads have been singing its praises ever since. It was a thoughtful and independent juxtaposition to big-budget, major-label albums like Diddy’s No Way Out and Ma$e’s Harlem World, with love songs like “Brown Skin Lady” and the hip-hop ode “Definition.”
With the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards taking place at the Barclays Center on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, the cultural hub that both Talib and Yasiin hold so dear, we take a trip down memory lane with Kweli to talk about some of the album’s stand-out tracks.
“The day it came out, A Tribe Called Quest dropped Love Movement, OutKast dropped Aquemini, Brand Nubian dropped Foundation, and it was a couple of other releases I don’t remember,” he said, forgetting that Jay-Z’s Vol.2 … Hard Knock Life LP also came out on the same day. “I remember that day like, ‘How is this possible?’ ”
“It wasn’t even a response [to Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.’s deaths], but it was taken as a response by the fans. This is just the world that I knew. It wasn’t as deliberate as it may seem. It was really about, here we are in this place, being fans and consumers of this music, people who grew up on this music, we’re really feeling that in our hearts, and so we rapping just about what we know.”
“Brown Skin Lady”
“It just came natural … Back in the day, you had a record like ‘Hip-Hop Hooray’ where Treach was one of the most gangsta dudes who came out at the time … and he was like, ‘I love black women all day/ Disrespect ain’t the way.’ — that was running on MTV all day. Tupac was the hardest rapper out, but he was ‘Dear Mama’ and all this.”
“B Boys Will B Boys”
“Yasiin was somebody who was more familiar with the other aspects of hip-hop culture, especially the B-Boy aspect. He was somebody who taught me a lot about the Rocksteady crew [of break dancers]. I knew Crazy Legs, I knew Ken Swift, but I didn’t know like that. It was Yasiin who pushed that envelope when Ge-ology gave us that beat.”
“Respiration,” featuring Common
“I think anybody who lives in the inner-city or a big city understands that. Growing up in New York, you think New York is the biggest city in the world and then you travel to places like Beijing or Sao Paulo or Lagos, and you see that’s a real sprawling, living, breathing creature. ‘Respiration’ just spoke to that. Common understood it because he grew up in Chicago … ‘Respiration,’ that might be one of my favorite songs that I ever was a part of.”
What’s your favorite song on the album? Share your pick in the comments below!