Additional personnel: Apani, Common, Jane Doe, Vinia Mojica, Weldon Irvine.
Producers: DJ Hi-Tek, Talib Kweli, Mr. Walt, Shawn J. Period, J. Rawls.
While Puff Daddy and his followers continued to dictate the direction hip-hop would take into the millennium, Mos Def and Talib Kweli surfaced from the underground to pull the sounds in the opposite direction. Their 13 rhyme fests on this superior, self-titled debut as Black Star show that old-school rap still sounds surprisingly fresh in the sea of overblown vanity productions. There's no slack evident in the tight wordplays of Def and Kweli as they twist and turn through sparse, jazz-rooted rhythms calling out for awareness and freedom of the mind. Their viewpoints stem directly from the teachings of Marcus Garvey, the legendary activist who fought for the rights of blacks all around the world in the first half of the 20th century. Def and Kweli's ideals are sure lofty; not only are they out to preach Garvey's words, but they also hope to purge rap music of its negativity and violence. For the most part, it works. Their wisdom-first philosophy hits hard when played off their lyrical intensity, a bass-first production, and stellar scratching. While these MCs don't have all of the vocal pizzazz of A Tribe Called Quest's Phife and Q-Tip at their best, flawless tracks like the cool bop of "K.O.S. (Determination)" and "Definition" hint that Black Star is only the first of many brilliantly executed positive statements for these two street poets. [Black Star was released on LP in 2014.] ~ Jason Kaufman
Rolling Stone (10/29/98, p.77) - 3 Stars (out of 5) - "...not only an eagerly awaited rap album but also a desperately needed one....Black Star are socially conscious and lyrically sound--with their hearts close to the underground."
Entertainment Weekly (10/23/98, p.80) - "...Mixing rugged street beats and rhymes brainy enough for boho B-boys (they cite literary references and quote Nina Simone) makes this Black Star shine bright." - Rating: A-
The Wire (1/99, p.27) - Included in Wire's "50 Records Of The Year "
CMJ (1/11/99, pp.5-6) - "...Mos Def and Talib Kweli truly are 'the best alliance in hip-hop,' with Mos's stylized, grainy delivery serving as yang to the smart, spoken words of Kweli's yin..."
The Source (11/98, p.198) - 3.5 Mics (out of 5) - "...With a delicate balance of Black Nationalism, well-chosen interludes and lyrics to go, high-pitched metaphor specialist Kweli and straight-up showman Mos prove that they're more than just 'lyrically handsome'..."