Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star

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Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
Studio album by Black Star
Released September 29, 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, Da Beatminerz
Mos Def chronology
Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
Black on Both Sides
Talib Kweli chronology
Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
Train of Thought
Singles from Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
  1. "Definition"
    Released: May 26, 1998
  2. "Respiration"
    Released: February 23, 1999

Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star is the only studio album by Black Star, a hip hop duo consisting of emcees Talib Kweli and Mos Def (the latter of whom now goes by the stage name Yasiin Bey). The album was released on September 29, 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.[1]


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 album's cover was designed by artist Brent Rollins.[citation needed]

Music and lyrics[edit]

Talib Kweli 1999

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 hair". 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, "One two three/Mos Def and Talib Kweli/We came to rock it on to the tip top/Best alliance in hip hop, Y-O/I said, one two three/It's kinda dangerous to be a MC/They shot 2Pac and Biggie/Too much violence in hip hop, Y-O". 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.[citation needed]

"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."[citation needed]

Mos Def 1999

"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: "Not strong, only aggressive/Not free, we only licensed/Not compassionate, only polite (now who the nicest?)/Not good but well-behaved/Chasin' after death so we could call ourselves brave, still livin' like mental slaves/Hiding like thieves in the night from life/Illusions of oasis making you look twice."[citation needed]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[2]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 4/5 stars[3]
Entertainment Weekly A−[4]
Rolling Stone 3/5 stars[5]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 4/5 stars[6]
The Source 3.5/5[7]
Spin 10/10[8]
Sputnikmusic 4/5[9]
The Village Voice A−[10]

Black Star was voted the 24th best album of 1998 in the Pazz & Jop, a poll of American critics nationwide, published annually by The Village Voice.[11] Robert Christgau, the poll's creator, wrote in a contemporary review that Mos Def and Talib Kweli "devise a hip hop imaginary where hater players lose their girls-not-bitches to MCs so disinterested they give 'em right back. The rhymes are the selling point. But the subculture that cares most about these words is what you'll come back to."[10] According to Encyclopedia of Popular Music writer Colin Larkin, the album abandoned "the negativity of gangsta rap" in favor of "a highly intelligent and searching examination of black culture, harking back to the classic era of rap epitomized by Public Enemy and KRS-One. The album's sparse, hard-hitting rhythms were also in marked comparison to the overblown productions of Puff Daddy, which dominated the rap mainstream."[3]

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 Reflection Eternal, 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
  • B Boys Will B Boys contains an interpolation of "Stoop Rap" by Little Rodney C and K.K. Rockwell from the film Wild Style
  • 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)"


  • Hi-Tek – Producer, Cut, Crowd Noise
  • Weldon Irvine – Keyboards, performer
  • Jim Godsey – Engineer
  • Charlie Mack – Engineer
  • Kieran Walsh – Engineer, Mixing
  • Vinia Mojica – Performer
  • DJ Evil Dee – Cut
  • Jane Doe – Performer
  • Rick St. Hillaire – Mixing
  • Steve Souder – Mixing
  • Chris Athens – Mastering
  • Ken "Duro" Ifill – Mixing
  • Eddie Otchere – Photography
  • Vaughn Sessions – Engineer
  • Mr. Walt – Producer, engineer, Mixing
  • Success – Engineer
  • Brent Rollins – Artwork, Cover art
  • Mos Def – Fender Rhodes, performer
  • Black Star – Artwork, Art Direction
  • Talib Kweli – Producer, performer
  • Marcus Garvey – Photography
  • 88 Keys – Producer
  • Pat Viola – Engineer
  • Jake Septimus – Photography
  • Tasleem – Photography
  • Richard Mason – Crowd Noise
  • J. Rawls – Producer
  • Kieran Dee – Photography/Banter/Dietician

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. ^ Moon, Tom. "1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die". Workman Publishing Company. Retrieved September 26, 2011. 
  2. ^ Kaufman, Jason (August 26, 1998). "Black Star – Black Star". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  3. ^ a b Larkin, Colin (2011). Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th ed.). Omnibus Press. p. 2006. ISBN 0857125958. 
  4. ^ Matt Diehl (October 23, 1998). "Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star Review | Music Reviews and News". Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  5. ^ Powell, Kevin (October 7, 1998). "Black Star: Black Star". Rolling Stone. New York. Archived from the original on April 1, 2008. Retrieved April 9, 2016. 
  6. ^ The new Rolling Stone album guide – Nathan Brackett, Christian David Hoard – Google Books. Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  7. ^ The Source. New York: 198. November 1998. 
  8. ^ Aaron, Charles (August 2009). "Mos Def". Spin. New York: 80. Retrieved April 9, 2016. 
  9. ^ "Black Star - Black Star". Sputnikmusic. Scroll down toDeviant STAFF. Retrieved April 9, 2016. 
  10. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (November 3, 1998). "CG: Black Star". The Village Voice. Retrieved 2011-09-27. 
  11. ^ Pazz & Jop 1998: Critics Poll

External links[edit]