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Black On Both Sides

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Album Review

Mos Def's partnership with Talib Kweli produced one of the most important hip-hop albums of the late '90s, 1997's brilliant Black Star. Consciously designed as a return to rap's musical foundations and a manifesto for reclaiming the art form from gangsta/playa domination, it succeeded mightily on both counts, raising expectations sky-high for Mos Def's solo debut. He met them all with Black on Both Sides, a record every bit as dazzling and visionary as Black Star. Black on Both Sides strives to not only refine but expand the scope of Mos Def's talents, turning the solo spotlight on his intricate wordplay and nimble rhythmic skills — but also his increasing eclecticism. The main reference points are pretty much the same — old-school rap, which allows for a sense of playfulness as well as history, and the Native Tongues posse's fascination with jazz, both for its sophistication and cultural heritage. But they're supported by a rich depth that comes from forays into reggae (as well as its aura of spiritual conscience), pop, soul, funk, and even hardcore punk (that on the album's centerpiece, "Rock n Roll," a dissection of white America's history of appropriating black musical innovations). In keeping with his goal of restoring hip-hop's sociopolitical consciousness, Def's lyrics are as intelligent and thoughtfully crafted as one would expect, but he doesn't stop there — he sings quite passably on several tracks, plays live instruments on others (including bass, drums, congas, vibraphone, and keyboards), and even collaborates on a string arrangement. In short, Black on Both Sides is a tour de force by an artist out to prove he can do it all. Its ambition and execution rank it as one of the best albums of 1999, and it consolidates Mos Def's position as one of hip-hop's brightest hopes entering the 21st century.

Customer Reviews

word up

dee jay bears has it dead right...the sign of a great album is how well it holds up to the test ot time. That said, this album could be released today and still be the best most innovative work out there. I think its likely because of Mos's square peg in a round whole curese that lead him away from hip hop. An industry the embraces cookie cutter rappers with no vision is no place for a trail blazer of this magnitude. I assume that's why he moved on to acting as his artistic outlet? Anyways, the album is a watershed moment in rap!


I'm baffled that there are no reviews an album of this magnitude. Easily one of the best albums of this decade, Mos Def beams with brilliance and brings hip hop back to consciousness and premiere production on Black On Both Sides. Brooklyn's finest veers away from the bling/ego formula that plagues the genre and spits with a rawness that puts him in the same league as Nas, Biggie and Rakim. If you're a hip hop enthusiast and do not own this, you've either been living on the moon or have yet to venture away from the likes of Lil' Wayne & LMFAO. Thank god albums like this still exist.

Absolute perfection

This album as been out for over 10 years now, but I only recently had the chance to listen to it. I was skeptical at first because I had heard a lot of good things about the album but didn't think it could live up to those expectations, fortunately it surpased my expectations in every way. Mos def found a way to balance being socially conscious with making songs that are just nice to listen to, in addition to not coming off as pretenscious. The entire album is just a joy to listen to and it covers a lot of topics that generally coincide with being black in America.

Definitely recommended.


Born: December 11, 1973 in Brooklyn, NY

Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Initially regarded as one of the most promising rappers to emerge in the late '90s, Mos Def turned to acting in subsequent years as music became a secondary concern for him. He did release new music from time to time, including albums such as The New Danger (2004), but his output was erratic and seemingly governed by whim. Mos Def nonetheless continued to draw attention, especially from critics and underground rap fans, and his classic breakthrough albums -- Black Star (1998), a collaboration with...
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