Words & Images by: JC McIlwaine
Black Star :: 05.30.09 :: Nokia Theatre Times Square :: New York, NY
Mos Def and Talib Kweli recently gave the hometown crowd a gift, reuniting as Black Star at Manhattan's Nokia Theatre for two back-to-back shows in one Saturday night. The hip-hop phenoms, both legends in their own right, split a decade ago after one highly-acclaimed and commercially successful album, and have gone on to shine individually in their solo careers. Both are frequently featured on each other's tracks, but the spectacle of the two MCs sharing the same stage is a rarity.
Backed on the turntables by J. Rocc of Beat Junkies fame (not to be confused with J-Rocc the professional wrestler), Mos Def and Talib Kweli dug up many tracks from 1998's self-titled Black Star, but also drew on the breadth of their solo material created since. Black Star. Tracks like "Definition/Re:DEFinition," "Children's Story" and "K.O.S. (Determination)" were interspersed with Mos Def ditties "Sunshine" and "The Panties" and Kweli keepers "Supreme Supreme" and "Move Something."
Even though the pair was touching down for their reunion in Manhattan, Brooklyn was a recurring theme of the night. Mos Def cracked in the first show, "We got love for the whole city but we come out Brooklyn-swinging first and then all y'all is riding with us." His song "Brooklyn" peppered the other songs of the set, as the duo returned to its verses several times throughout the night.
The timing of the show couldn't have been better, as Mos Def's new album, The Ecstatic, was set for a June 9 release. Talib put the question to Mos, "Don't you got an album coming out?" to which Mos responded, "Cuz I'm dope." "What's the name of the album?" prodded Talib. "Cuz I'm dope," replied Mos, continuing the joke, "the new single 'Cuz I'm Dope' from Cuz I'm Dope Records."
The crowd, itself ecstatic to see these two back together in action, was treated to a small taste of Mos Def's new material in the form of a song called "History," as both men rapped over a beat made by legendary hip-hop producer J Dilla. The song was a nice tribute to the now deceased co-producer, who died of a blood disease in 2006. At one point J. Rocc paused his turntables long enough for Mos Def to continue a capella: "Every soul got born today/ It’s where you been and where you be/ It start then it end/ Then it just go round again." Mos Def and Talib Kweli (who raps on the studio version) went on to run down a list of rap stars dead before their time, including the aforementioned J Dilla, as well as Jam Master Jay, Biggie Smalls, 2Pac and Big Pun.
|Mos Def - Black Star :: 05.30 :: NYC|
Respects paid, the two quickly returned to giving props to Brooklyn, with a couple of mentions of their borough of choice thrown into Kweli's hit "Get By." They spun through a quick album-like version of the song before J. Rocc rewound and reloaded to give them a crack at a remix version. "Brooklyn wins again/ It's the Stuy/ It's the Bush/ Ta' Kweli, Mighty Def," rapped Mos on the lead-in to the second go-round.
Between songs, Mos Def joked, "We out here old school, without the cordless mics." Kweli jumped in, "Y'all know about the cordless mics? J. Rocc, play something – it's gonna take some time to figure this shit out." Quicker than expected, the three launched into "Umi Says," a track off of Mos Def's Black on Both Sides, before ending the set with Black Star's "Respiration."
"New York City, we love you!" Mos Def called to the crowd as he, Talib and J. Rocc left the stage. An hour later they would be back with another set for a new set of fans lucky enough to experience what Kweli called "The Black Star Extravaganza."
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