all words: William Donaldson
all photos: Nick Balleza video by: Amy Brooks
Mos Def and Talib Kweli, under the moniker of Black Star, recorded a masterpiece thirteen years ago, and a fanatic Sunday evening crowd that packed out the brand new Fillmore were eager to hear the whole thing. Taking up the mantle of A Tribe Called Quest’s social consciousness and delivering trade-off verses chocked with metaphor, allusion, crisp imagery, and food for thought, their self-titled Black Star album is one that begs for close listening. Primary producer Hi-Tek starts the album off with bass heavy production but dovetails the second half with sparse jazz samples, producing an album that begins with head bobbing and ends with soul searching.
Though it’s not an album that did well commercially, the Fillmore, looking swanky draped in red curtains and chandeliers dangling from its rafters, was filled to capacity, belying the notion that the album is a critically successful semi-obscurity. It helps that Mos and Kweli, if Black Star was a seed in fertile soil, grew their careers into substantial successes. Kweli carved a reputation as dazzling linguist with an intellectual bent (Jay Z sez: “If skills sold / Truth be told / I’d probably be / Lyrically / Talib Kweli”) and Mos has stacked a respectable acting career on top of his already formidable rap game.
DJ J Rocc introduced the two Brooklyn natives to what else but “Intro,” the first track on the album. A host of hands with cell phones and cameras shot up to capture images of Mos and Kweli, who emerged wearing dapper suits and holding up carbon microphones to their mouths.
The second track, “Astronomy (8th Light),” the first song with legitimate verses, had the crowd rapping and chanting along with Mos and Kweli and never really stopping all night. The words seemed to be tattooed to the hearts and tongues of everyone. Hearing the crowd go word-for-word was like a group poetry reading of communal hymns being intoned and sung in unison.
With references to Biggie, Gil Scott Heron, and Slick Rick, Mos and Kweli aligned themselves with a rich heritage of hip hop history throughout the night. In between a few album tracks, the two performed some of their solo material. Mos did his “Auditorium” with a guest verse by Slick Rick, which was the perfect segue into the cover of The Ruler’s song “Children’s Story” that serves as track 5 on Black Star.
After they performed all 13 tracks, Mos and Kweli came back on stage for a good 20-to-30 minute encore to perform more solo material. Cuts like “Never Been In Love” and “Get By” sparked barely-contained moments of hysteria from the audience.
If Mos had done “Ms. Fat Booty” then god knows what structural damage would have occurred to the new Fillmore facilities. The night concluded with Mos doing some awkwardly endearing dances to a jazzy rock song as J Rocc and Kweli bowed out to heavy applause.
Some rap shows have the tendency to be disappointing because verses aren’t choreographed very well and too many voices on stage can crowd the mic. Mos and Kweli were patient and on point, linked not only in mind but also soul. But what they really need to do together? Get back in the booth and record another album. We’ve been waiting 13 years, after all.