The Philosophical Message of “Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star”

Photo source: Karsyn Otero. Cover art by Brent Rollin

Photo source: Karsyn Otero. Cover art by Brent Rollin

Karsyn Otero, Writer

Throughout the years, music has evolved in a heartbeat. In the modern day, a lot of music isn’t depicting fighting back power or a group of people like it was back then.  As far back as the 70’s goes, punk rock groups such as Clash, Black Flag, and Sex Pistols were determined to be heard, spread politics, and expose power. These artists truly pioneered political ideas in their music. As hip-hop grew increasingly more popular in the 90s, particular artists saw and used this method. As they used lyricism to express their beliefs and to spread philosophical ideas, they continued to retain a melodic and “gangsta” style. It shaped what hip-hop is known as today.

On September 29th, 1998, pragmatic hip-hop duo Black Star, which consisted of Mos Def and Talib Kweli, released their debut album Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star. The duo name itself speaks out. Black Star stems from a shipping line made by Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican politician and philosopher that contributed towards the Rastifarian movement. Black Star created this album in an attempt to educate and influence; needless to say, it worked. As timeless as it is, Black Star made one of the most diverse hip-hop albums of its year and laid the foundations of Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s solo career.

The album focuses on the daily life of an African American man and the issues surrounding him, as well as personal issues and living in Brooklyn personally told by Mos Def and Kweli. The album presents the philosophical ideas of the duo as they influence and empower the black community and its important issues at the time. Although these topics can be seen as more serious and controversial, the Black Star duo presents it as nonchalant and calm, but still getting the point across to the listener. Black Star spreads their ideology by using songs such as “Brown Skin Lady”, which is dedicated towards black and brown skin women and empowers them to love their natural beauty and to avoid normalized stereotypes. Another song off the album, “Children’s Story”, argues that most artists in the music industry are not quite what they appear to be. The moral of this song is to be genuine and true, because some mistakes you can not take back. The song is expressed through a bedtime story being told to a child to appeal to a younger audience and teach an important lesson towards youth.

The duo wanted change. Unlike popular 90’s emcees such as Tupac Shakur and Big L, although their work received positive reception, the duo wanted to avoid negative lyricism and express both their beliefs and peace while maintaining a vigorous and poetic atmosphere. Although their album wasn’t a massive hit, it received critical positive acclaim and was an overall great rap album. It proceeded to plant seeds for future artists in the making, such as Kid Cudi and Lupe Fiasco. Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Blackstar also stands at number 63 on the Rolling Stone Top 200 Greatest Hip-Hop Albums of all time. Black Star expresses their political beliefs to the world through art and attempts to get one specific point across: peace.