Written Before Listen
So…I guess this is the year of the comeback. After 24 years, Mos Def and Talib Kweli return for a second album. Their debut album “Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star” is one of the strongest in 90s hip hop and continues to have staying power with its laid-back production, strong flows, and undeniable chemistry. I’m coming into this album with decent expectations but I hope I'm proved wrong, without further ado, let’s get into it.
The entire album is produced by one of the best producers in hip hop, Madlib. Madlib has been responsible for some amazing hip-hop projects like Madvillainy and Piñata. This time around, he returns with his signature style. The hypnotic beat for “So Be It” has this Indian Filmi sample and it has so much personality to it, and “Sweetheart. Sweetheart. Sweetodd.” Has one of the best sample flips on the album. The beat for “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing” is surely repetitive but the drums behind it keep the beat linear and intriguing enough. I also like the beat for the title track as the surreal horn sample gives the verses some grit while the luxurious chorus gives it that outro quality to it. Overall, Madlib does his usual, and to be honest, that's all I can ask for with him.
Yasiin Bey has gone through a lot in the past 24 years. With his classic album in 1999 Black On Both Sides and an album that is equally as good that came out 10 years later “The Ecstatic”, Mos Def has shown over and over again that he is capable of making a classic. Despite not coming out with that much material over the years, what he has out is some great material. This time around, being vocal about his love of MF DOOM, he is taking a much more monotone approach to his verses and it has its pros and cons. I like how It works perfectly on these beats because if it worked on Madvillainy, it should work anywhere else. The thing I don’t like about it is that the chemistry with Talib isn’t as strong, but we’ll get to that later. Overall, I think Yasiin stays his true self and he knows what works in these circumstances.
Talib Kweli has always been the lesser of the two MCs. The reason I say that is because his flow has always been a very lyrical miracle, but just like Yasiin, his artistic evolution is prominent. With classics like “Blast” and “Get By” under his belt, Talib has put his name into hip hop in a good way. Recently, he rather gets recognition with his luminary and Uproxx podcasts, or his permanently banned Twitter account. I will say that he proves that he still has his prowess up his sleeve with this album. His flows are a little bit tighter, his style is more developed and he stays hungry throughout the 33 minutes this album has for it.
Now, to the MCs colliding together, I’ve seen reviews of this album saying that the chemistry they had on their debut is no longer there. I will stay here and agree with that, but on the other hand, I think the two styles have a different type of chemistry. I think instead of showing lyrical chemistry, they show a lot more dynamic chemistry as Yasiin’s monotone voice works with Talib’s laid-back and straightforward voice. I think when it comes to the sound they were trying to accomplish, this type of approach works better than what they would’ve done back in 98. I'm not saying it's a superior project, but I think it shows a fresh sound the same way the original Black Star had an original sound.
At the same time, I do think the chemistry that they had on their first album is not there, but as I said, it gets made up. I will also say that there are some beats, especially the beats for “o.G” and “Yonders” that are pretty similar to each other and have nothing super special to it. On the other hand, Mos Def, Talib, and Madlib are just a match made in heaven that is justified.
Wow…I can’t believe I'm saying this..but the 24 years were worth the wait. They remain strong as Madlib beats with Mos and Kweli is just an unreal combination. We all know that Madlib works well with the two individually so it just makes sense that they are capable of making a great record together, and that’s exactly what they did.