Mos Def and Talib Kweli want to advance Hip Hop. They’ve seen what the genre can be, taken the pieces worth saving and left the materialism and violence behind. Their mission is to promote black culture without leaning on hypocrisy or stereotype. As Black Star, they attempt to redefine the genre they love before it fades from glory into a tired cliche.
Sonically, Black Star traffics in the jazz and Hip Hop of New York’s past, deeply inspired by Gil Scott Heron’s soulful spoken word and KRS-One’s outspoken politics. Thankfully, they temper their austere influences with a spirited verbal interplay that can be unbelievably quick-witted, meticulous and jocular.
The storytelling is evocative, utilizing vivid imagery that seems more at place on the page than the turntable. Tongue twisters abound, as both MCs strive to fill each bar with as much meaning as possible, yet they never sound winded or over stuff their verses. These vocal calisthenics are admirable, particularly when expressing complex themes like martyrdom, record label tyranny, inferiority complexes and social stratification.
“Thieves in the Night” takes on these matters brilliantly, chiding pity and striving for individualism, despite the fact that “captors own the masters” to everything Black Star writes. They understand that, as musicians, they’ll have to cooperate with the record industry, but that doesn’t impede their goal, which is to go beyond music as entertainment and expose society’s hypocrisy. It’s a noble and thoughtful effort that would sound highfalutin if its spokesmen weren’t so ardent and astute.
Black Star’s “Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star” was ranked #45 on Matt Deapo‘s Hip Hop Top 50, a ranking of 50 of the best Hip Hop albums recorded between 1978 and 2006, based on this consideration and these rules.