Black on Both Sides

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Black on Both Sides
Studio album by Mos Def
Released October 12, 1999
Recorded 1998-1999
Genre Hip hop
Length 71:21
Label Rawkus/Priority
Producer Mos Def (also exec.), Diamond D, Ge-ology, 88-Keys, DJ Premier, Ayatollah, D. Prosper, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Psycho Les, DJ Etch-A-Sketch, David Kennedy
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: 1999
  2. "Umi Says"
    Released: 2000
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[1]
Robert Christgau A−[2]
The Daily Vault A−[3]
Entertainment Weekly A−[4]
The Independent (favorable)[5]
NME (8/10)[6]
Pitchfork Media (8.7/10)[7]
Rolling Stone 3.5/5 stars[8]
Rolling Stone Album Guide 4/5 stars[9]
The Source 4/5 stars[10]
Tiny Mix Tapes 4.5/5 stars[11]

Black on Both Sides is the debut album of American rapper Mos Def, now known as Yasiin Bey, released October 12, 1999 on Rawkus Records. Prior to the album's recording, Mos Def had collaborated with rapper Talib Kweli for the duo's studio album, Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (1998),[12] which raised high expectations for a solo effort.[1] Black on Both Sides features an emphasis on live instrumentation and socially conscious lyrics.[5][8] 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.[13]


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 stated 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 also 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 did a little more than the aforementioned producers by supplying two beats (the ninth and tenth tracks "New World Water" and "Rock N Roll", respectively). Jazz legend Weldon Irvine provided additional production to "Climb".

Ayatollah produced "Ms. Fat Booty" and "Know That". The same followed for 88-Keys after he 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. The late Jay Dee also contributed, but his work was not included in the album's final release.

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' place of origin 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[citation needed] of Smif-N-Wessun's "Home Sweet Home" and the last verse is set to the instrumental track of Notorious B.I.G.'s 1995 single "Who Shot Ya?". However, "Brooklyn"'s original soundscape took its concept a bit further. The true original version was never released in its entirety, as initially recorded. Mos rhymes 3 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. It is assumed that the use of these instrumentals could not be cleared for various reasons. One of many being the possibility that the samples used in the original instrumentals were only licensed to be used specifically for those compositions, and any further licensing would require the original artists' permission (therefore requiring more money on both sampling parties' ends), or any other number of various music industry troubles. This said version circulates online frequently. It is also notable that on the song, Mos Def sings his own interpretation of the Red Hot Chili Peppers song "Under the Bridge".

Also, DJ Premier originally used a different sample than the one featured on the released version of "Mathematics", which was entered into clearance. When clearance failed, DJ Premier crafted a different instrumental for the song.


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.[14]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Producer(s) Length
1. "Fear Not of Man"   Mos Def 4:28
2. "Hip Hop"   Diamond D, Mos Def* 3:16
3. "Love"   88-Keys 4:23
4. "Ms. Fat Booty"   Ayatollah 3:43
5. "Speed Law"   88-Keys 4:16
6. "Do It Now" (featuring Busta Rhymes) Mr. Khaliyl 3:49
7. "Got"   Ali Shaheed Muhammad 3:27
8. "Umi Says"   Mos Def, David Kennedy* 5:10
9. "New World Water"   Psycho Les 3:11
10. "Rock N Roll"   Psycho Les, Mos Def* 5:02
11. "Know That" (featuring Talib Kweli) Ayatollah 4:03
12. "Climb" (featuring Vinia Mojica) DJ Etch-A-Sketch, Mos Def*, Weldon Irvine* 4:02
13. "Brooklyn"   Ge-ology, Mos Def*, David Kennedy* 5:09
14. "Habitat"   DJ Etch-A-Sketch 4:39
15. "Mr. Nigga" (featuring Q-Tip) D-Prosper, Mos Def* 5:12
16. "Mathematics"   DJ Premier 4:06
17. "May–December"   88-Keys, Mos Def* 3:29



Chart (1999) Peak
UK Albums Chart[15] 56
US Billboard 200[16] 25
US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums[17] 3
US Billboard Top Rap Albums[18] 1

Year Title US R&B[19] US Rap UK[20]
1999 "Ms. Fat Booty" 54 20
2000 "Umi Says" 60


All lyrics by Mos Def.

# Title Notes
1 "Fear Not of Man"

Songwriters: D. Smith
Sample: "Fear Not for Men" by Fela Kuti
Bass: Mos Def
Congas: Mos Def
Keyboards: Weldon Irvine
Percussion: Mos Def

2 "Hip Hop"

Songwriters: D. Smith
Sample: "The Warning Part II" by David Axelrod
Sample: "Time's Up" by O.C.
Sample: "Paid in Full" by Eric B & Rakim
Sample: "The Bridge" by MC Shan
Sample: "C.R.E.A.M" by Wu-Tang Clan
Bass: Mos Def
Keyboards: Mos Def
Scratches: DJ Etch A Sketch

3 "Love"

Songwriters: D. Smith
Sample: "Porgy" by Bill Evans
Sample: "I Know You Got Soul" by Eric B. & Rakim

4 "Ms. Fat Booty"

Songwriters: D. Smith, L. Dorrell
Sample: "One Step Ahead" by Aretha Franklin

5 "Speed Law"

Songwriters: D. Smith
Sample: "Promise Her Anything But Give Her Arpeggio" by Big Brother & The Holding Company
Sample: "And That's Saying A lot" by Christine McVie
Sample: "Get It Together" by Beastie Boys

6 "Do It Now"

Songwriters: D. Smith

7 "Got"

Songwriters: D. Smith

8 "Umi Says"

Songwriters: D. Smith
Fender Rhodes:
Hammond organ: Weldon Irvine

9 "New World Water"

Songwriters: D. Smith

10 "Rock n Roll"

Songwriters: D. Smith
Sample: "Allustrious" by Mobb Deep
Bass: Mos Def
Drums: Mos Def
Guitar: Johnny Why

11 "Know That"

Songwriters: D. Smith
Sample: "Anyone Who Had a Heart" by Dionne Warwick

12 "Climb"

Songwriters: D. Smith

13 "Brooklyn"

Songwriters: D. Smith
First Move Producer: Ge-ology
Second Move Producer: Mos Def & David Kennedy
Third Move Producer: Mos Def
First Move Sample: "What Are You Doin' the Rest of Your Life" by Milt Jackson
First Move Sample: "Under the Bridge" by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Second Move Sample: "We Live in Brooklyn Baby" by Roy Ayers
Third Move Sample: "Who Shot Ya?" by The Notorious B.I.G.

14 "Habitat"

Songwriters: D. Smith

15 "Mr. Nigga"

Songwriters: D. Smith
Sample: "A Legend in His Own Mind" by Gil-Scott Heron
Sample: "Sun Goddess" by Ramsey Lewis
Congas: Mos Def
Percussion: Mos Def

16 "Mathematics"

Songwriters: D. Smith,
Sample: "Body Rock" by Mos Def
Sample: "John Blaze" by Fat Joe
Sample: "For All My Niggaz & Bitches" by Snoop Dogg
Sample: "Criminology" by Raekwon
Sample from the movie Ghostbusters
Sample: "On & On" by Erykah Badu
Sample: "Baby I'm-A Want You" by Fatback Band
Sample: "Funky Drummer" by James Brown

17 "May–December"

Songwriters: D. Smith
Bass: Mos Def
Piano: Weldon Irvine
Vibraphone: Mos Def


  1. ^ a b Huey, Steve. "Black on Both Sides - Mos Def". AllMusic. Retrieved on 2009-08-28.
  2. ^ Christgau, Robert. "CG: Mos Def". The Village Voice: November 2, 1999. Archived from the original on 2009-08-28. Note: Christgau revised the album's original rating of (B+) to (A-).
  3. ^ McCarthy, Sean (2006-09-07). "The Daily Vault Music Review : Black On Both Sides". The Daily Vault. Retrieved 2013-01-22. 
  4. ^ Diehl, Matt (1999-11-05). "Black On Both Sides Review". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved on 2009-08-28.
  5. ^ a b Columnist (1999-10-29). "Latest Albums Review". The Independent. Retrieved on 2009-08-28.
  6. ^ Columnist (1999-11-18). "Album Reviews - Black On Both Sides". NME. Retrieved on 2009-08-28.
  7. ^ Goldman, Andrew (1999-10-12). "Mos Def: Black on Both Sides". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved on 2013-01-22.
  8. ^ a b Lewis, Miles Marshall (1999-11-11). "Mos Def: Black On Both Sides : Music Reviews". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 2008-07-24. Retrieved 2013-01-22. 
  9. ^ Page 462
  10. ^ "Mos Def - Black on Both Sides CD Album". CD Universe. Retrieved 2013-01-22. 
  11. ^ Furman, Michael (1999). "Mos Def - Black on Both Sides". Tiny Mix Tapes. Retrieved on 2009-08-28.
  12. ^ Leroy, Dan (1999-10-12). "Mos Def: Black on Both Sides". Yahoo! Music. Retrieved on 2009-08-28.
  13. ^ RIAA - Gold & Platinum Search. Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved on 2009-06-30.
  14. ^ Umi Says - Much Respect YouTube (produced by Rawkus Records, Nike and Jordan Brand)
  15. ^ Mos Def albums peak chart position in United Kingdom: The New Danger: "Mos Def". The Official Charts Company. Retrieved June 18, 2012. 
  16. ^ "Mos Def Album & Song Chart History: Billboard 200". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved June 18, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Mos Def Album & Song Chart History: R&B/Hip-Hop Albums". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved June 18, 2012. 
  18. ^ "Mos Def Album & Song Chart History: Rap Albums". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved June 18, 2012. 
  19. ^ Billboard Charts.Mos Def Singles Chart History.
  20. ^ Official ChartsMos Def Chart Singles History.


External links[edit]