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Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star
Studio album by Black Star
Released August 26, 1998
Recorded 1997–1998
Genre Alternative hip hop
Conscious hip hop
Length 50:11
Label Rawkus/Priority/EMI Records
7243 5 26143 2 5
P2-26143 (first pressing)

Rawkus/MCA/Universal Records
112 897 (second pressing)
Producer Shawn J. Period
Professional reviews
Mos Def chronology
Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star
Black on Both Sides
Talib Kweli chronology
Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star
Train of Thought

Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star is an album-length collaboration of emcees Talib Kweli and Mos Def. The album was released on August 26, 1998, to critical acclaim. The title is a reference to a shipping line founded by Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey. The album deals with modern-day issues, philosophical ideas, and life in Brooklyn, New York City, as the two artists know it.



The album's fruition came about from the chemistry between the two emcees. Both planned to release their solo albums around the same time, but they postponed their individual projects and decided instead to collaborate on a full-length LP.

The late jazz musician Weldon Irvine played the keys on the album's opening song, "Astronomy," which interprets the word "black" in a positive way, and contains similes such as "Black, like my baby girl's stare".

The next song, and first single, "Definition," is a stern response to hip hop's fascination with death, and a dedication to slain emcees Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.. As the chorus goes,

One two three/Mos Def and Talib Kweli/We came to rock it on to the tip-top/Best alliance in hip-hop, Y-O/I said, one two three/It's kind of dangerous to be an emcee/They shot Tupac and Biggie/Too much violence in hip-hop, Y-O

The chorus is also a play on Boogie Down Productions' anti-gun song "Stop the Violence", as well as "Remix For P Is Free" off of their album Criminal Minded. "Children's Story" is a re-imagined version of Slick Rick's original, with Mos Def cautioning against overly materialistic pursuits.

"Brown-Skin Lady" is an affectionate tribute to brown-skinned women. The song encourages black and brown women to be proud of their hair and complexion, and to not be influenced by Western beauty standards. Kweli rhymes, "We're not dealin' with the European standard of beauty tonight/Turn off the TV and put the magazine away/In the mirror tell me what you see/See the evidence of divine presence."

The centerpiece of the album, "Thieves in the Night," was inspired by author Toni Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye. In the album's liner notes, Kweli explains that the paragraph "struck me as one of the truest critiques of our society, and I read that in high school when I was 15 years old. I think it is especially true in the world of hip hop, because we get blinded by these illusions." The excerpt interpolated in the song is as follows:

And fantasy it was, for we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good but well-behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life.

And the version on the track:

Not strong, only aggressive/Not free, we only licensed/Not compassionate, only polite (now who the nicest?)/Not good but well-behaved/Chasin' after death so we could call ourselves brave, still livin' like mental slaves/Hiding like thieves in the night from life/Illusions of oasis making you look twice.

The album's cover was designed by artist Brent Rollins.

Track listing

# Title Producer(s) Performer(s) (in order of appearance) Length
1 "Intro" Hi-Tek; co-produced by Talib Kweli *Interlude* 1:11
2 "Astronomy (8th Light)" Da Beatminerz Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Weldon Irvine 3:23
3 "Definition" Hi-Tek Mos Def, Talib Kweli 3:26
4 "RE: DEFinition" Hi-Tek Talib Kweli, Mos Def 3:02
5 "Children's Story" Shawn J. Period Mos Def 3:32
6 "Brown Skin Lady " J. Rawls Talib Kweli, Mos Def 5:46
7 "B Boys Will B Boys" Ge-ology Mos Def, Talib Kweli 2:36
8 "K.O.S. (Determination)" Hi-Tek Talib Kweli, Vinia Mojica 4:49
9 "Hater Players" Shawn J. Period Apani, Talib Kweli, Mos Def 4:08
10 "Yo Yeah" J. Rawls; co-produced by Talib Kweli Mos Def, Talib Kweli 1:10
11 "Respiration" Hi-Tek Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common 6:05
12 "Thieves in the Night" 88-Keys Talib Kweli, Mos Def 5:16
13 "Twice Inna Lifetime" Hi-Tek Jane Doe, Wordsworth, Talib Kweli, Punchline, Mos Def 5:38


  • Definition contains a sample, and interpolation from "The P Is Free" by Boogie Down Productions
  • Definition contains an interpolation of the chorus in "Stop The Violence" by Boogie Down Productions
  • Children's Story contains an interpolation of "Children's Story" by Slick Rick
  • Brown Skin Lady begins with a sample from the film Chameleon Street
  • Brown Skin Lady contains a sample from "We Almost Lost Detroit" by Gil-Scott Heron and Brian Jackson
  • K.O.S. (Determination) contains a sample from "Baby, This Love I Have" by Minnie Riperton
  • Respiration contains a sample from "The Fox" by Don Randi
  • Respiration contains a sample from the film Style Wars
  • Yo Yeah uses a sample from the track "Downlo Ho" by Scientifik

Album singles

Single information
  • Released: August 26, 1998
  • B-side: "Twice Inna Lifetime" (featuring Jane Doe, Punchline & Wordsworth)
"Respiration" (featuring Common)
  • Released: February 23, 1999
  • B-side: "Respiration (Flying High Mix)"


Chart positions

Billboard Music Charts (North America) - album

Chart (1998) Peak position
The Billboard 200 #53
Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums #13

Billboard (North America) - singles

Chart (1998) Peak Position
Definition – Hot Rap Singles #3
Definition – Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks #31
Definition – The Billboard Hot 100 #60
Chart (1999) Peak position
Respiration – Hot Rap Singles #6
Respiration – Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks #54


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