[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Wednesday, Feb. 3.]
SAN FRANCISCO Despite the wintry chill outside, the climate inside the
Justice League Sunday night was strictly tropical for the second of two local shows by
rising rappers Black Star. Fueled by hundreds of bodies and little ventilation, the League
gets hot, wet and sticky, but on this night, the bar was fully dry.
A hip-hop show in a nightclub with no alcohol is like a Grateful Dead concert with no
weed, but a force mightier than liquor-driven profits transported the Justice League back
to the days of Prohibition.
'Twas the mighty Mos Def of Black Star who apologized for his request. But as both a
devout Muslim and concerned hip-hop mentor, he explained that they wanted a rap
audience that was "clear-headed."
While some may have grumbled that they couldn't get any gin with their juice, the bulk of
the crowd was appreciative, even amazed, that Mos Def convinced the League to forgo
its alcohol revenue. Of course, Black Star's sellout crowd Saturday and near-capacity
crowd Sunday helped ease the club's financial pain.
Black Star began the night with a shout out to their home borough, Brooklyn, N.Y.,
though Mos Def's partner, Talib Kweli, quickly gained favor with the crowd by
proclaiming, "I feel good, real good. Hella good!"
Then, while the group's DJ Hi Tek set up some beats on his turntables, Def and Kweli
started trading off freestyle rhymes that had the crowd cheering along with each clever
In contrast to rappers who overwhelm their audiences with a flood of lyrics, Black Star
are far more informal, personal and playful. The two rappers include harmonized chants
in their performance while Mos Def is known for his rap scat. These variations did much
to avoid monotony as Black Star regularly surprised the crowd with sudden breaks and
Although Black Star have released only one album Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are ...
Black Star and a handful of singles, the crowd was well-versed in their repertoire.
The evidence came during Sunday night's version of "Astronomy" (RealAudio
excerpt) the album's opening number. When Def and Kweli
hit the chorus, the crowd recited the hook, "We be shinin' and shinin'
when we rhymin' and rhymin'."
From there, Black Star quickly shifted into material spotlighting the vocal talents of each
rapper. Kweli took the lead on "Once In A Lifetime," and Mos Def handled "Universal
Magnetic B-Boy." During the latter, Mos Def kept stopping the song at the beginning,
building anticipation by repeating key phrases until he launched full-force into the
verses. The audience members closest to the stage responded by leaping in a frenzy to
The group played much of the album, including the single, "Definition," its sequel,
"Redefinition" and the sublime "Respiration." Then, Mos Def took a tongue-in-cheek
break to give a quick lesson in tidal forces during a full moon, one having risen over the
club that night. The set also included a new song that began with a chant to "Free
Mumia," referring to activist and convicted murderer Mumia Abu-Jamal hip-hop's
current cause célèbre. Abu-Jamal's name was mentioned
throughout the night.
When the duo wrapped up "Brown-Skinned Lady" (RealAudio
excerpt), their ode to black women, the show seemed finished. But
they returned for an encore, bringing on De La Soul's Posdnous as a
A seminal force behind the positive, intelligent style of hip-hop that Black Star practice,
Pos was the perfect guest. Those fans wise enough to have stayed for the encore were
treated to two new songs featuring Pos and Black Star.
During an all-out freestyle session between the three rappers, Kweli won bonus points
for his line, "I never lose respect/ Like Jews never forget." The night ended for real this
time at 1:30 a.m. with Mos Def chanting "L-O-V-E."