Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star

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Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
Studio album by
ReleasedSeptember 29, 1998
RecordedSeptember 1997 – May 1998
StudioUnique Recording (New York)[1]
LabelRawkus, Priority, EMI, MCA, Universal
ProducerShawn J. Period, Hi-Tek, Ge-ology, 88-Keys, J. Rawls, Da Beatminerz
Black Star chronology
Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
No Fear of Time
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: August 26, 1998
  2. "Respiration"
    Released: February 23, 1999

Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (often called simply Black Star[6][7]) is the debut studio album by Black Star, a hip hop duo consisting of emcees Talib Kweli and Mos Def (the latter of whom now goes by 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,[clarification needed] and life in Brooklyn, New York City as the two artists know it.[8]


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.[9]

Music and lyrics[edit]

Mos Def in 1999
Talib Kweli in 1999
Mos Def (left) and Talib Kweli (right) in 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/Look in the mirror tell me what you see/I see the evidence of divine presence."[citation needed]

"Thieves in the Night" was inspired by author Toni Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye.[10][11] 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
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[13]
Entertainment WeeklyA−[14]
Rolling Stone[17]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[18]
The Source3.5/5[19]
The Village VoiceA−[21]

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.[22] 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."[21] 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."[13]

Track listing[edit]

1."Intro"Hi-Tek; co-produced by Talib Kweli1:11
2."Astronomy (8th Light)" (featuring Weldon Irvine)Da Beatminerz3:23
4."Re: Definition"Hi-Tek3:02
5."Children's Story"Shawn J. Period3:32
6."Brown Skin Lady"J. Rawls5:46
7."B Boys Will B Boys"Ge-ology2:36
8."K.O.S. (Determination)" (featuring Vinia Mojica)Hi-Tek4:49
9."Hater Players"Shawn J. Period4:08
10."Yo Yeah"J. Rawls; co-produced by Talib Kweli1:10
11."Respiration" (featuring Common)Hi-Tek6:05
12."Thieves in the Night"88-Keys5:16
13."Twice Inna Lifetime" (featuring Jane Doe, Wordsworth, and Punchline)Hi-Tek5:38

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
  • Ge-ology – Producer, Crowd Noise
  • 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]

Weekly charts[edit]

Chart (1998) Peak
US Billboard 200
US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums (Billboard)


Song Chart (1998) Peak
"Definition" US Billboard Hot 100[23] 60
US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (Billboard)[24] 31
US Hot Rap Songs (Billboard)[25] 3
"Respiration" US Billboard Hot 100[26] 77
US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (Billboard)[24] 54


  1. ^ AllMusic
  2. ^ Anon. (November 28, 2011). "The Week Ahead in New York Music, Nov. 28 to Dec. 4". NBC New York. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  3. ^ Kimble, Julian (January 3, 2017). "Yasiin Bey was one of rap's brightest stars. His farewell concert was a stirring reminder". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  4. ^ Stewart, Allison (February 16, 2021). "Talib Kweli's 'Vibrate Higher' is a plain-spoken striver's tale". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  5. ^ Anon. (February 14, 2020). "Common". uDiscover. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  6. ^ "Black Star - Black Star,Mos Def,Talib Kweli | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved February 11, 2017.
  7. ^ "Black Star". Pias Recordings (rough trade). September 1, 2001. Retrieved February 11, 2017.
  8. ^ Moon, Tom. "1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die". Workman Publishing Company. Archived from the original on December 17, 2011. Retrieved September 26, 2011.
  9. ^ "Inside The Album Art: Designer Brent Rollins Talks Freeway, Black Star, Spank Rock & More". February 19, 2010. Retrieved March 7, 2020.
  10. ^ Shields, Michael (September 27, 2018). "Twenty Years Later — Black Star's Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star". Retrieved March 7, 2020.
  11. ^ Temple, Emily (January 26, 2018). "11 Pop Songs for Literary People". Literary Hub. Retrieved March 7, 2020.
  12. ^ Kaufman, Jason. "Black Star – Black Star / Mos Def / Talib Kweli". AllMusic. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
  13. ^ a b Larkin, Colin (2011). "Black Star". The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-85712-595-8.
  14. ^ Diehl, Matt (October 23, 1998). "Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star". Entertainment Weekly. New York. Retrieved May 7, 2020.
  15. ^ McPhail, Pete (November 1998). "Blackstar: Blackstar (Rawkus)". Muzik. London (42): 83.
  16. ^ Crysell, Andy (October 19, 1998). "Blackstar – Blackstar". NME. London. Archived from the original on August 17, 2000. Retrieved January 17, 2018.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ 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. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
  19. ^ "Black Star: Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star". The Source. New York (110): 198. November 1998.
  20. ^ Aaron, Charles (August 2009). "Mos Def". Spin. New York. 25 (8): 80. Retrieved April 9, 2016.
  21. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (November 3, 1998). "Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
  22. ^ "The 1998 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". The Village Voice. New York. March 2, 1999. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
  23. ^ "Black Star Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved September 10, 2021.
  24. ^ a b "Black Star Chart History (Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved September 10, 2021.
  25. ^ "Black Star Chart History (Hot Rap Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved September 10, 2021.
  26. ^ "Black Star Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved September 10, 2021.

External links[edit]