On August 26th, 1998, Mos Def and Talib Kweli came together as Black Star and released one of the most significant albums in hip-hop’s history.
Six years later, as a seventh-grader hearing the album for the first time on a bootleg CD played through my bedroom DVD player, it changed my life.
Prior to hearing Mos and Kweli, my rap tastes consisted of whatever I heard on the radio or saw on BET or MuchMusic: basically, G-Unit, Ludacris, Nelly, Ja Rule, and Lil Jon. (Here’s a fun activity: look at the Billboard charts from 2001-03 for a reminder of the musical climate.) Suddenly, I was opened to a world of groovy basslines, gritty drums, and quick-witted lyrical mastery. Not only that, but there was substance. I never turned back.
I may have caught on late, but I share a similar story with many emcees and producers in hip-hop today. Ask just about anyone, and they’ll list Black Star amongst their favourites.
“That was the album that changed all of my lyrical content,” says Junia-T.
“When you’re a young artist, and you’re just rapping, following what you hear, you don’t really understand the reality of the environments these people are describing, you know what I mean? Until you hear an album like Black Star, it really made me realize that yeah, I can rap about my regular life and still have something to say.”
“The mid-nineties was when I got into deejaying, and this was kind of at the same time that Rawkus was really big,” Freddie Joachim says. “This was when Mos Def and Kweli, Common, and The Roots were really blowing up. That’s the type of music that I gravitated towards.”
“I heard that in a time when I had already kinda been on Nas, and Common, and Jay – all the staples – but that came at a point where I was kind of searching for something new, because I had played those albums to death,” says Omen.
“It was just so refreshing to hear; it was just unique; Mos had his own style, Talib had his own style, and I was at a time in my life where I was searching for truth, and tryin to figure out the world, and I felt like they had the answers – even if they didn’t, it felt like that.”
Allow us to take a walk down memory lane and revisit the album, track-by-track. Read it all after the jump.
Richmond, California emcee Locksmith has a lot to say. Half-Iranian, half-Black, and at one time, half of the rap group The Front Line, in many ways, he’s an embodiment of the American dream: the son of two parents from different backgrounds, looking for a better future for the next generation. A graduate of UC Berkeley, he holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in African-American studies. For years, he worked as a mentor to young kids. On the microphone, he sticks out just as much. He was a finalist in MTV’s 2003 MC Freestyle Championship. He hasn’t written a verse down in 15 years.
He’s also had his share of hardships. As a kid, he was picked on for his mixed-race heritage (see “Backpack”). He was sexually abused (see “Hardest Song Ever”). After exorcizing those demons on A Thousand Cuts and reminiscing on his neighbourhood on The Green Box, Lofty Goals is all about looking ahead and striving for more. It’s about overcoming self-doubt. It’s about letting go of pride.
We caught up with Locksmith to talk about insecurity, race in America, putting love first, and much more. Listen to the podcast below and read the highlights after the jump.
The homie A-Fos (of A-Fos & The Rude Youth) just dropped the 14-track Clean Your Room Already, a pay-what-you-want debut solo project after the group’s Trying To Be Better. Crafted around a series of interludes focusing on relating to the world, relating to others, and surrendering to the present, the album follows A-Fos through an introverted struggle, wrestling with regret and unanswered questions, before leading to a revelation of acceptance and closure (that’s my best Freud impression, anyway).
It’s a London affair, with guest features from familiar names like Casper, Kehmak, and Kyle Kanevil, as well as others including Nathan Bain and Olivia Borkosky. A couple early favourites are “Don’t Slip” and “Spot of Grey” featuring Joel Denny, “Back in the Day” featuring Nathan Bain, and “Breathe” featuring Olivia Borkosky (and some fantastic production from Zlender). It’s a long time coming, too — I remember hearing snippets of the album around this time last year. It’s good to finally see it come to light, and in any case, it was worth the wait.
Listen to the album below.
We’ve brought you music from A-Fos & The Rude Youth before — you may be familiar with the group’s funk/hip-hop fusion. Now the band’s frontman is coming out with a solo project, Clean Your Room Already, showcasing not only his skills on the mic, but his production chops as well (something you may also be familiar with from KyleKanevil’s solo project). The album — which A-Fos promises to be “funky, nostalgic and honest” — drops August 1st. The latest glimpse we get comes in the form of two tracks, “Back in the Day” and “Sweet Mother Mary.”
The former enlists Nathan Bain on the hook as A-Fos reminisces about times growing up. The latter sees the London-based emcee pairing with Jordan MacDonald of Texas King in a song about, well, you can probably guess from the title. Listen below.
When it comes to the future of Canadian hip-hop, there’s plenty to look forward to, but there are a handful of emcees who I’m really excited about. Hamilton’s T.Y. is one of those emcees. After first seeing him perform at The Come Up Show’s 7th Anniversary, I was floored by his live show and became an instant fan, eager for the next project I could dig into.
That was April of last year. After all this time (and a few noteworthy releases along the way), the wait is over. T.Y. and Chef Byer (who, it should be mentioned, is right up there as one of the best beatmakers in Canada) have collaborated to create The Beautiful Exchange (shouts to Complex on the premiere). I’ve been more than excited to take this in — and, I’ll add, curious to see whether it would live up to what I thought it could be, as my previous experience of T.Y. had been a pretty small sample size.
I’ve decided to do something a little different this time around and share my first-take impressions of the album. What you’ll read are my live reactions, and while they may not be comprehensive, I hope they’ll provide a glimpse into what this album has to offer.
Stream the album and read the first-take track-by-track breakdown after the jump.