Black on Both Sides

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Black on Both Sides
Studio album by
ReleasedOctober 12, 1999
GenreHip hop
Producer Q-Tip
Mos Def chronology
Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
Black on Both Sides
The New Danger
Singles from Black on Both Sides
  1. "Ms. Fat Booty" / "Mathematics"
    Released: August 2, 1999
  2. "Umi Says"
    Released: 2000

Black on Both Sides is the debut solo studio album by American rapper Mos Def, released on October 12, 1999, by Rawkus and Priority Records. Prior to its recording, Mos Def had collaborated with Talib Kweli for the album Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star in 1998,[1] which raised high expectations for a solo effort by the former.[2] Black on Both Sides features an emphasis on live instrumentation and socially conscious lyrics.[3][4]

On February 2, 2000, the album was certified Gold in sales by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), following sales in excess of 500,000 copies.[5]


Talib Kweli (one-half of Black Star with Mos Def), Q-Tip and Busta Rhymes are the only main rappers to be featured on the album. Kweli raps the second and final verse of "Know That", while Busta goes back and forth with Mos on "Do It Now". Q-Tip helps sing the chorus on "Mr. Nigga" but doesn't deliver a verse. The lyrics Q-Tip recites are similar to his previously released lyrics on A Tribe Called Quest's "Sucka Nigga". Vinia Mojica (who is known for singing on Native Tongues songs) also sings a duet with Mos Def on the song "Climb".


The album features a mix between established and rising producers. DJ Premier provides the instrumental track for "Mathematics". Diamond D is credited for "Hip Hop". Ali Shaheed Muhammad, known mostly as a member of A Tribe Called Quest, produced the seventh song "Got". Psycho Les of The Beatnuts produced "New World Water" and "Rock N Roll". Jazz legend Weldon Irvine provided additional production to "Climb".

Ayatollah produced "Ms. Fat Booty" and "Know That". 88-Keys produced "Love" and "Speed Law" and co-produced the instrumental outro "May–December" with Mos Def himself. David Kennedy (the second swing of "Brooklyn" and "Umi Says" produced with Mos Def), Mr. Khaliyl ("Do It Now"), DJ Etch-A-Sketch ("Climb" and "Habitat"), Ge-ology (The first swing of "Brooklyn") and D. Prosper ("Mr. Nigga") round out the other contributors.

Mos received production assistance on most of the album's tracks. His sole production credit comes at "Fear Not of Man", but he provided additional production to four tracks ("Hip Hop", "Rock N Roll", "Climb" and "Mr. Nigga") and co-produced three ("Umi Says", "Brooklyn" and "May–December").

Early versions[edit]

On the song "Brooklyn", a three-movement piece dedicated to Mos's neighborhood in Bedford-Stuyvesant, New York, Mos rhymes three verses over three different beats. The first beat is an original composition produced by Ge-ology, while the second verse is a re-creation Smif-N-Wessun's "Home Sweet Home" and the last verse is set to the instrumental track of The Notorious B.I.G.'s 1995 single "Who Shot Ya?". Originally, Mos rhymed three complete verses over Ge-ology's musical composition, now referred to as the first movement of the song. On a later version, the first and third verses are set to the instrumentals of two other 1995 New York rap hits, "Incarcerated Scarfaces" by Raekwon as well as "Give Up the Goods (Just Step)" by Mobb Deep, respectively. The "Who Shot Ya?" verse, with the same vocal take on the released version, is placed in the middle. Mos Def sings his own interpretation of the Red Hot Chili Peppers song "Under the Bridge".


Mos Def was involved with two videos for Umi Says. One was more traditional, while the second one came when Nike and Jordan Brand chose "Umi Says" as its theme song for its Much Respect series of commercials for the Air Jordan XVI. As a result, the second video features appearances from Michael Finley, Eddie Jones, Derek Jeter, Roy Jones Jr., Ray Allen and even Michael Jordan himself.[6]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Christgau's Consumer GuideA−[7]
Entertainment WeeklyA−[8]
Rolling Stone[4]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[12]
The Source4/5[13]

Black on Both Sides received universal acclaim from critics. Matt Diehl of Entertainment Weekly praised the album's diversity and noted, "Merging old-school bravado with new-school poetics, the Brooklyn legend spouts incisive Afrocentric reality that takes all sides into account."[8] Dan Leroy of Yahoo! Music opined that "Not since Rakim's heyday has a mic-rocker so clearly articulated such complex and entertaining thoughts, with the ability to wax eloquently on matters metaphysical ('Love') and just plain physical ('Ms. Fat Booty')" and hailed the album as "a sure pick as one of the year's best."[1]

The Independent lauded the record's "sharp reflections on a range of subjects from parochialism to pollution, fear to fat booties, rap to rock 'n' roll" and wrote that Black on Both Sides "stands as a proud example of the heights hip-hop can achieve when its exponents put their minds to it."[3] The Village Voice's Robert Christgau wrote that while he felt the album ran too long, "the wealth of good-hearted reflection and well-calibrated production overwhelms one's petty objections".[15] In a retrospective review, Charles Aaron of Spin described Mos Def as a "restless B-Boy citizen of the world" and called the album "playful, witty, and heart-pounding."[14]

Track listing[edit]

1."Fear Not of Man"Dante SmithMos Def4:28
2."Hip Hop"3:16
4."Ms. Fat Booty"Ayatollah3:43
5."Speed Law"
  • D. Smith
  • Njapa
6."Do It Now" (featuring Busta Rhymes)Mr. Khaliyl3:49
7."Got"Ali Shaheed Muhammad3:27
8."Umi Says"
  • D. Smith
  • David Kennedy
  • Mos Def
  • David Kennedy[a]
9."New World Water"Psycho Les3:11
10."Rock N Roll"
  • D. Smith
  • Fernandez
  • Psycho Les
  • Mos Def[a]
11."Know That" (featuring Talib Kweli)
12."Climb" (featuring Vinia Mojica)
  • D. Smith
  • Gerard Young
  • Kennedy
  • Ge-ology
  • Mos Def[a]
  • David Kennedy[a]
  • D. Smith
  • Irvine
  • Dunn
DJ Etch-A-Sketch4:39
15."Mr. Nigga" (featuring Q-Tip)
16."Mathematics"DJ Premier4:06
  • D. Smith
  • Njapa
  • Irvine
  • 88-Keys
  • Mos Def[a]
Total length:71:21


  • ^[a] signifies an additional producer.

Sample credits


Chart (1999) Peak
UK Albums Chart[16] 56
US Billboard 200[17] 25
US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums[18] 3
US Billboard Top Rap Albums[19] 1
Year Title US R&B[20] US Rap UK[21]
1999 "Ms. Fat Booty" 54 20
2000 "Umi Says" 60


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United States (RIAA)[22] Gold 500,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ a b Leroy, Dan (October 12, 1999). "Mos Def: Black on Both Sides". Yahoo! Music. Archived from the original on 2010-06-01. Retrieved August 28, 2009.
  2. ^ a b Huey, Steve. "Black on Both Sides – Mos Def". AllMusic. Retrieved August 28, 2009.
  3. ^ a b "Latest Albums Review". The Independent. October 29, 1999. Retrieved August 28, 2009.
  4. ^ a b Lewis, Miles Marshall (November 11, 1999). "Mos Def: Black On Both Sides". Rolling Stone. New York. Archived from the original on July 24, 2008. Retrieved January 22, 2013.
  5. ^ RIAA - Gold & Platinum Search. Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved on 2009-06-30.
  6. ^ Umi Says - Much Respect YouTube (produced by Rawkus Records, Nike and Jordan Brand)
  7. ^ Christgau, Robert (2000). "Mos Def: Black on Both Sides". Christgau's Consumer Guide: Albums of the '90s. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-24560-2. Retrieved August 28, 2009.
  8. ^ a b Diehl, Matt (November 5, 1999). "Black on Both Sides". Entertainment Weekly. New York. Retrieved August 28, 2009.
  9. ^ Ashon, Will (December 1999). "Mos Def: Black on Both Sides (Rawkus)". Muzik. London (55): 93.
  10. ^ Chick, Stevie (November 18, 1999). "Mos Def – Black On Both Sides". NME. London. Archived from the original on June 14, 2000. Retrieved August 28, 2009.
  11. ^ Goldman, Andrew (October 12, 1999). "Mos Def: Black on Both Sides". Pitchfork. Retrieved January 22, 2013.
  12. ^ Relic, Peter (2004). "Mos Def". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. p. 562. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  13. ^ "Mos Def: Black on Both Sides". The Source. New York (122): 218–20. November 1999.
  14. ^ a b Aaron, Charles (August 2009). "Mos Def". Spin. New York. 25 (8): 80. Retrieved April 9, 2016.
  15. ^ Christgau, Robert (November 2, 1999). "Hit It, Now Hold It". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved August 28, 2009.
  16. ^ Mos Def albums peak chart position in United Kingdom: The New Danger: "Mos Def". The Official Charts Company. Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  17. ^ "Mos Def Album & Song Chart History: Billboard 200". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  18. ^ "Mos Def Album & Song Chart History: R&B/Hip-Hop Albums". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  19. ^ "Mos Def Album & Song Chart History: Rap Albums". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  20. ^ Billboard Charts.Mos Def Singles Chart History Archived 2016-09-22 at the Wayback Machine.
  21. ^ Official Charts Mos Def Chart Singles History.
  22. ^ "American album certifications – Mos Def – Black on Both Sides". Recording Industry Association of America.

External links[edit]