The year was 1997 when a group of two super talented, well-read, freedom fighters and emcees met and hit it off big time which would led to the formation of Black Star. The emcees were The Mighty Mos Def, who had trying to break into the rap game for years prior and even recorded a full-length and a couple of 12":s with his first group Urban Thermony Dynamics in '95 ("Manifest Destiny"). The album is interesting in that is an early look into the mind of a young emcee who would go on to becaume one of the most innovative artists of the 2000:s. With production by Showbiz, Diamond D, Salaam Remi and J-Swift. Needless to say, the singles flopped hard as it really didn't bring anything new to the table, and was eventually shelved by Payday. About ten years ago Traffic Entertainment got a hold of the album and released it to the public - personally I don't think it's much more than a curiosity but it's of course interesting to hear the origin story of one of the greatest artists hip-hop as ever seen.
The other Brooklynite that make up Black Star is Talib Kweli Green who before he fully immersed himself into hip-hop culture was an academic who studied poetry and experimental theater. It was however around '95/early '96 that he found his true calling on a trip to Cincinatti where he befriended a group of underground emcees and producers called Mood. The recording of this group's debut album "DOOM" would have an enormous impact on Green's continued career. Not only did he appear on one third of the albums 18 songs while local producer Hi-Tek would produce half the album alongside Jayson - and the two producers woud sit in on each other sessions. As Hi-Tek and Kweli would hit it off big time, this would lead to the formation of the prdoucer/MC duo Reflection Eternal and a chance to oversee and produce half of the Black Star album which were releases in 1998.
After Kweli relocated back to Brooklyn from Cincinatti, he would soon meet Mos and hit it off immediatly as they shared many opinions and beliefs, not to mention an immense love for what can be argued as "authentic hip-hop". It is possible that the pair first met at the Lyricist Lounge club sometime around the mid-'90s, and one of the first released collaborations between the two is a studio freestyle over an exclusive Ghetto Professionals banger that appeared on the first volume of the impeccable "Lyricist Lounge" series (1997). The B-side to "C.I.A.", one of the singles from the same EP, was another slamming recreation of the live Lyricist Lounge vibe where some of the sharpest emcees around would participate in rao cyphers. The song, "Talking To You", saw Mos and Kweli joined by Pharoahe Monch and Rah Digga over an early Hi-Tek production, thus capturing that early Black Star vibe better than many other non-albubm tracks from the duo. And then there were of course a couple of banging "solo" cuts from the two; overall "Lyricist Lounge", all three volumes, are pretty damn impressive listening. Both of these songs are of course captured on this compilation
My guess is that it was Kweli and Mos' constant apperances on The Lyricist Lounge which earned them their record conract with Rawkus Records; a label with at the time was a burgenoing powerhouse imprint that focused on pure underground hip-hop (sometimes incorrectly labeled as backpacker rap). The duo went into the studio witht plans to make an EP that would act a s a springboard to their own respective solo careers. However, their lyrical chemistry and respective distinctive voices the potential of the project rapidly became unmistakable, and thus the duo kept recording material so strong that they eventually ended up with ten high quality songs. Add to that three musical interludes/intermissions (not to be confused with the lame ass skits we hear today), making "Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star" into a full-blown full-length LP. Released on Rawkus Records in mid-'98 the album was a huge underground success that still hold up today as one of the strongest releases of the '90s. The chemistry between Mos and Kweli was straight up incredible in the same category as previous great teams like Rae and Ghost, EPMD, Nas & AZ, Method Man and Redman and so forth. Just like these artist's the duo created an incredible album that could and should prerferrably listend to from front-to-back,and then you can REWIND!
Recorded in Electric Studios during the Soulquarians movement, "...Are Black Star" immediatly becameone one of Rawkus flagship releases, and still to this day in any debate about whether Rawkus was one of the true underground labels that were all for the artists or if it eventually turned into a sell-out label (I would argue both sides are corret during different times in the labels life span). And rightfully so as it certainly has stood the test of time and hold up today as one of the true classics of the late '90s, not only because of the amazing music it contiained but also because it represented an at the time much needed counter-movement in hip-hop music - the opposite of what the big artists of the day was doing, not only Puff Daddy, but also great artists like Nas, DMX, BIG, Capone-N-Noreaga, and so on. A funny story goes how Mos had invited Puff Daddy and his crew to a club concert that he was doing as Bad Boy was interested in signing the hyper talented lyricst. Only Mos Def gleefully performed an early incarnation of "Children's Story" - a track obviously taking shots at Puff. Needless to say the Bad Boy deal never happened, and thank God for that!
It seems that "Are Black Star" was always intended to be a one-off deal, with its main purpose being to serve as a vehicle for Mos Def' solo career and the careers of Reflection Eternal and Talib Kweli, who all released albums under their own names during the couple of years that followed. Luckily all of those projects continued the tradition of offering up at least one Mos Def / Talib Kweli collaboration to wet the appetize of the long-time fan. Kweli's 2002 "Qualiy" solo debut had the spiritual vibe with a stand out bet by Ayaollah that was the sonic equivalent to the joy of having your first son at the hostpial. Mos Def only jumps on the hook here, as it is a very personal story to him, yet Mos definitely makes the most of the session! Ayatollah is also the producer of the Black Star record "Know That" from hs certified '99 classic "Black On Both Sides" which is a much harder, progressive and miliant song that's quite different than the previous aforementioned songs, as it's more of a revoluationary songs with a beat and lyricals/delicery that is sure to get your blood pumping and throw your fist in the air! Mos Def was also supposed to appear on the follow-up to "Qualty", "The Beautiful Sruggle", but due to a very early leak many of the tracks was replaced or updated - "Supreme, Supreme" unfortunately being one of the songs that was cut completely. Mos and Kweli did however hook up one more time for "History", a soulful stand-out from Mos' 2009:s "The Ecstatic" which saw Kweli and Yasiin trade inelligent bars over a licensed backdrop from Dilla's "Motown" beat tape (sometimes known as 2005 batch #´3), and unlike many rappers who have attempted to get busy over posthumous Jay Dee beats, the Black Star duo sure as hell does that mesmerizing producion true justice. Dilla smiles down on the listener and the artists when this jawn plays!
So while we are still eagerly waiting for a new Black Star album that may, or may not, happen sometime down the line, I wanted to compile enough of the songs to create a sixteen track "album" of some of this duo's finest achievements as a duo, outside of their one-shot LP. Back in 2011/2011 a Oh No/Madlib produced double A-side single was released ("Fix Up"/"You Already Know") proved once and for all that these musical brohers never lost a step and sounds as enjoyable today as they did back then. This compilation will be followed by more early Talib Kweli and early Mos Def compilations if there is any interest in that sort of thing... But till then, enjoy, tune in, drop out and TURN IT UP!!
01. "Supreme Supreme"
03. "Know That"
04. "This Means You"
05. "Talking To You" (Ft. Rah Digga, P. Monch & A-Butta)
06. "Lyricist Lounge Freestyle Shit"
07. "Fix Up"
08. "Little Brother"
09. "Foritifed Live" (Ft. Mr. Mann)
10. "Another World"
11. "Hard Margin"
12. "Bright As The Stars"
13. "Beautiful" (Ft. Mary J. Blige)
14. "You Already Know"
16. "Get By Remix" (Ft. KanYe, Jay-Z & Busta Rhymes)