Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 26 January 2020

Mos Def says the new Black Star album is 'ridiculous', 'golden' and almost finished

'I don’t really care if you all don’t like it. This just means we like different things and that’s fine,' said Yasiin Bey of Black Star's much-anticipated release

Mos Def and Talib Kweli perform as part of the benefit concert, 'Power To The People' at Coliseo Jose M. Agrelot on March 18, 2018 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Getty 
Mos Def and Talib Kweli perform as part of the benefit concert, 'Power To The People' at Coliseo Jose M. Agrelot on March 18, 2018 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Getty 

Hip-hop history was made in Dubai over the weekend when celebrated rap group Black Star, featuring acclaimed MCs Talib Kweli and Yasiin Bey, or Mos Def, sat down for a rare discussion at Sole DXB. In their first joint public speaking session in a decade, they shed light on their anticipated, yet-to-be-titled second album, the follow-up to their classic 1998 debut Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star.

That is my template for an album. The first three songs that you record will be the vibe of the whole record. Whatever follows after this will follow the tone of those three

Yasiin Bey

In news that will excite their patient fans, Black Star said the album is nearly finished, and that they think it could even be better than its groundbreaking predecessor. “This new album is ridiculous,” Bey said to applause. “And I don’t really care if you all don’t like it. This just means we like different things and that’s fine.”

How Bey dials back Kweli's braggadocio

Their debut featured many beat-makers, but Bey noted that the new album is solely produced by US sonic wizard Madlib. On the lyrical front, you can expect Kweli, 44, and Bey, 45, to address the issues of our times. Black Star songs have always taken on lofty concepts such as self-determination, self-knowledge and social justice, but Bey said the fresh album finds the duo approach the topics from new angles due to the wisdom they’ve accrued over the past two decades.

Kweli said the bond between him and Bey is deeper than music, however. “People kept saying ‘when is the next album coming up’, so much that it got to a point that for me, personally, I caught myself also saying ‘when is the next album out’ in all my conversations with Yasiin. I had to check myself because that can’t just be what our relationship is all about.”

Kweli recalled reaching that insight about five years ago when visiting Bey during his stint living in South Africa. “When I went there I made it a point to not talk about music or Black Star. We have been friends for so long and I couldn’t remember just breaking bread with Yasiin.”

The trip was rejuvenating for the pair, Kweli revealed, saying he was happy to retire Black Star, at least for a while, in order to sustain their friendship. This resulted in Kweli and Bey meeting up in various European cities during their respective solo tours to hang out.

It was taking a break from the group and these genuine interactions, Kweli said, that provided the creative spark to write new Black Star songs. Regarding his lyrical contribution to the new album, Kweli credits Bey for helping him dial down the braggadocio to take on a more reflective perspective. “Even before Black Star, Yasiin was trying to get to a spiritual place. He was trying to get to a place that is beyond bragging and boasting.

“Because Yasiin is so focused on making sure that what we say with the music is deeper than just patting ourselves on the back and connected to a real compassion, there will be rhymes that I will kick and he will say, ‘eeh …,’ because the rhymes are too braggy and they are too much about me.

“So I went back to revisit them, and now I feel the new album is good and I really stepped my game up. It’s not that I am always rapping about those things, but he made me realise I don’t have to at all.”

Don’t expect a club banger from Black Star anytime soon

Bey said that the spirit of friendship and intimacy was carried throughout the album’s Euro-trotting recording process. Armed with computer files filled with Madlib’s adventurous beats, the duo recorded tracks in hotel rooms on a mobile studio in various cities including Barcelona, Paris, ­Copenhagen and Amsterdam.

Once the first batch of songs were recorded, Bey said he knew they were heading towards a new album. “We would record, go out, see the city, eat good food, come back and listen to the recordings, and we would think, ‘Yeah, I like that.’

“I knew we were in good stead when we were in Copenhagen. We would record one song there and by the time we got to Amsterdam we had three songs. When I heard those three songs I was like, ‘We are golden.’ That is my template for an album. The first three songs that you record will be the vibe of the whole record. Whatever follows after this will follow the tone of those three.”

Black Star L-R Mos Def and Talib Kweli perform at Sole DXB at Dubai Design District on December 7, 2019. Picture by Farel Bisotto
Black Star L-R Mos Def and Talib Kweli perform at Sole DXB at Dubai Design District on December 7, 2019. Picture by Farel Bisotto

Regarding his own performance on the new record, Bey said he sounds stronger and more assured on the mic. He credits both Kweli’s eye for detail and Madlib’s challenging beats for keeping him stimulated throughout the recording process. “I only wanted to do things that kept me up at night or make me want to get up in the morning to do them. I don’t want to do any filler, anything obligatory or something expected from us.”

Kweli then wittily chimed in: “There is no song for the ladies or one for the clubs. We played the album for [US actor and comedian] ­Marlon Wayans and he was like, ‘Yo, this is dope. But you all need one where they can feel you in the clubs.’ And I was like, ‘Marlon, you still go to clubs?’”

Mic, dropped.

Updated: December 11, 2019 07:23 PM

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