Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star

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Black Star
Studio album by Black Star
Released August 18, 1998
Recorded September 1997–May 1998
Genre Alternative hip hop, conscious hip hop
Length 50:11
Label Rawkus, Priority, EMI, MCA, Universal
Producer Shawn J. Period, Hi-Tek, Ge-ology, 88-Keys, J. Rawls, Mr. Walt
Mos Def chronology
Black Star
Black on Both Sides
Talib Kweli chronology
Black Star
Train of Thought
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars [1]
Robert Christgau A− [2]
Entertainment Weekly A− [3]
RapReviews (9.5/10) [4]
Rhapsody (favorable) [5]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars [6][7]
The Source 3.5/5 stars [8]
Virgin Encyclopedia 4/5 stars [9]
Mos Def 1999
Talib Kweli 1999

Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star is an album-length collaboration of emcees Talib Kweli and Mos Def. The album was released on August 18, 1998, to critical acclaim. The title is a reference to the Black Star Line, a shipping line founded by Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey. The album deals with modern-day issues, philosophical ideas, and life in Brooklyn, New York City, as the two artists know it.[10]


The album's fruition came about from the chemistry between the two emcees. Both planned to release their solo albums around the same time, but they postponed their individual projects and decided instead to collaborate on a full-length LP.

The late jazz musician Weldon Irvine played the keys on the album's opening song, "Astronomy," which interprets the word "black" in a positive way, and contains similes such as "Black, like my baby girl's stare".

The next song, and first single, "Definition", is a stern response to hip hop's fascination with death, and a dedication to slain emcees Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.. As the chorus goes,

The chorus is also a play on Boogie Down Productions' anti-gun song "Stop the Violence", as well as "Remix For P Is Free" from their album Criminal Minded. "Children's Story" is a re-imagined version of Slick Rick's original, which features Mos Def cautioning overly materialistic pursuits.

"Brown-Skin Lady" is an affectionate tribute to brown-skinned women. The song encourages black and brown women to be proud of their hair and complexion, and to not be influenced by Western beauty standards. Kweli rhymes, "We're not dealin' with the European standard of beauty tonight/Turn off the TV and put the magazine away/In the mirror tell me what you see/See the evidence of divine presence."

"Thieves in the Night" was inspired by author Toni Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye. In the album's liner notes, Kweli explains that the paragraph "struck me as one of the truest critiques of our society, and I read that in high school when I was 15 years old. I think it is especially true in the world of hip hop, because we get blinded by these illusions." The excerpt interpolated in the song is as follows:

And fantasy it was, for we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good but well-behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life.

And the version on the track:

Rawkus release party 1999

The album's cover was designed by artist Brent Rollins.

Track listing[edit]

# Title Producer(s) Performer(s) (in order of appearance) Length
1 "Intro" Hi-Tek; co-produced by Talib Kweli *Interlude* 1:11
2 "Astronomy (8th Light)" Da Beatminerz Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Weldon Irvine 3:23
3 "Definition" Hi-Tek Mos Def, Talib Kweli 3:26
4 "RE: DEFinition" Hi-Tek Talib Kweli, Mos Def 3:02
5 "Children's Story" Shawn J. Period Mos Def 3:32
6 "Brown Skin Lady " J. Rawls Talib Kweli, Mos Def 5:46
7 "B Boys Will B Boys" Ge-ology Mos Def, Talib Kweli 2:36
8 "K.O.S. (Determination)" Hi-Tek Talib Kweli, Vinia Mojica 4:49
9 "Hater Players" Shawn J. Period Talib Kweli, Mos Def 4:08
10 "Yo Yeah" J. Rawls; co-produced by Talib Kweli Mos Def, Talib Kweli 1:10
11 "Respiration" Hi-Tek Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common 6:05
12 "Thieves in the Night" 88-Keys Talib Kweli, Mos Def 5:16
13 "Twice Inna Lifetime" Hi-Tek Jane Doe, Wordsworth, Talib Kweli, Punchline, Mos Def 5:38


  • Intro contains a sample of Cannonball Adderley speaking, taken from an interlude from his live album Music You All
  • Definition contains a sample, and interpolation from "The P Is Free" by Boogie Down Productions
  • Definition contains an interpolation of the chorus in "Stop The Violence" by Boogie Down Productions
  • Children's Story contains an interpolation of "Children's Story" by Slick Rick
  • Brown Skin Lady begins with a sample from the film Chameleon Street
  • Brown Skin Lady contains a sample from "We Almost Lost Detroit" by Gil-Scott Heron and Brian Jackson
  • K.O.S. (Determination) contains a sample from "Baby, This Love I Have" by Minnie Riperton
  • Respiration contains a sample from "The Fox" by Don Randi
  • Respiration contains a sample from the film Style Wars
  • Yo Yeah uses a sample from the track "Downlo Ho" by Scientifik

Album singles[edit]

Single information
  • Released: August 26, 1998
  • B-side: "Twice Inna Lifetime" (featuring Jane Doe, Punchline & Wordsworth)
"Respiration" (featuring Common)
  • Released: February 23, 1999
  • B-side: "Respiration (Flying High Mix)"


Chart positions[edit]

Billboard Music Charts (North America) - album

Chart (1998) Peak position
The Billboard 200 #53
Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums #13

Billboard (North America) - singles

Chart (1998) Peak position
Definition – Hot Rap Singles #3
Definition – Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks #31
Definition – The Billboard Hot 100 #60
Chart (1999) Peak position
Respiration – Hot Rap Singles #6
Respiration – Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks #54


  1. ^ Kaufman, Jason (1998-08-26). "Black Star - Black Star". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  2. ^ "CG: Black Star". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  3. ^ Matt Diehl (1998-10-23). "Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star Review | Music Reviews and News". Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  4. ^ "Black Star :: Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star :: Rawkus". Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  5. ^ "Black Star : Black Star". Rhapsody. 2001-01-01. Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  6. ^ [1][dead link]
  7. ^ The new Rolling Stone album guide - Nathan Brackett, Christian David Hoard - Google Books. Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  8. ^ "Music: Black Star (CD) by Black Star (Artist)". Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  9. ^ "Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star". Acclaimed Music. Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  10. ^ Moon, Tom. "1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die". Workman Publishing Company. Retrieved 26 September 2011.