"From the first to the last of it/ delivery is passionate..."
Hip-hop fans of a certain age will always remember the first time they heard Black Star. Released 19 years ago, the debut album from the hip-hop duo set fire to the underground, introducing the world to the raspy-voiced consciousness of Talib Kweli and solidifying Mos Def’s then-nascent rep as one of the most important new artists in the genre.
Although Kweli and Mos Def -- now known as Yasiin Bey -- have both gone on to enjoy success and acclaim with their solo projects, they have yet to release a follow-up to their 1998 debut. And while it appears that fans will have to continue their nearly two-decade wait for a sophomore album, Black Star just announced a Feb. 10 date at the Ogden Theatre in Denver (tickets go on sale at 10am on Friday, Jan. 12; click here to get yours).
In honor of the group’s highly anticipated upcoming performance, here’s a look at five deep cuts we hope they perform at the Ogden in February.
Technically speaking, this 1997 classic is by Reflection Eternal (Kweli’s project with the producer Hi-Tek) and features Mos Def and Mr. Man, but for all intents and purposes, this standout from Rawkus Records’ iconic Soundbombing compilation marked the debut of Black Star. Countless MCs have since freestyled over the song’s slick guitar sample, but it’s doubtful any matched the original’s thrilling blend of clever word play, classic rap braggadocio and cutting social commentary.
The first of their post-debut singles, “Little Brother” appeared on the soul-centric soundtrack to the Denzel Washington film “The Hurricane.” The jazzy track was produced by J Dilla; Complex named it his 10th best beat, high praise for one of the most respected and prolific producers in hip-hop history.
They may not have released a second album as Black Star, but Kweli and Bey have continued to appear on each other’s solo projects. Arguably the best of these songs is “Joy” from Kweli’s 2002 masterpiece “Quality.” Bey may be relegated to hypeman on the hook of the song, which recounts the births of Kweli’s children, but his salutations are the musical equivalent of a champagne toast to the proud papa.
Born & Raised
Kweli and Bey appeared on “Chappelle’s Show” both individually and together, so it made sense that they would be booked for the comedian’s post-TV show block party, captured for posterity in the Michel Gondry documentary “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party.” Beyond performing in the movie, Black Star also contributed “Born & Raised” to the film’s soundtrack, a new original song that celebrates their Brooklyn roots.
You Already Knew
Back in 2011, it sounded like we were going to get a new Black Star mixtape inspired by soul legend Aretha Franklin. Sadly, that project never came to fruition, but the duo did release a pair of stellar tracks: “Fix Up” and “You Already Knew,” produced by Madlib and his brother Oh No, respectively. Those two songs and the scrapped mixtape are emblematic of the group’s career: the small quantity of music Black Star has put out in 20 years may be frustrating, but that only makes every new song and tour date all the more special.