Black Star (Mos Def and Talib Kweli)
See also: Our Black Star slideshow
Better than: Vanilla Ice's cameo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.
Mos Def and Talib Kweli were already established alternative hip-hop artists when they came together to form Black Star, producing only one album, 1998's Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, before moving on. After 13 years, the duo are back with a new release, set to drop early next year. They're in the midst of a lengthy transatlantic tour.
Perhaps the grind is getting to them, as the two were strangely subdued for the majority of their show at Club Nokia last night. Only a few of their songs reached the excitement level they hit so frequently on record.
Taking the stage fashionably late, the rappers and DJ J Rocc were decked out in snazzy attire and led off with a strong new track, “You Already Knew.” It rides a dreamy beat with high-pitched soul samples, slams Rick Perry, and imagines a black Tea Party. Similarly, the recently-released “Fix Up” loops clean funk guitar and drums into a solid foundation atop which Mos and Talib spit boasts and disses. “You doubted us but you're still hating / Wow, we're proud of ya! / Committed to your cause and it's caused you to be a sourpuss.”
“Definition” was another highlight, and the “1, 2, 3” vocal hook that made it Black Star's calling card has not suffered in the past decade-plus. Unfortunately, the tempo slowed significantly from then on. The MC's, while lyrically dexterous, did not evince the type of amped-up energy needed to sustain what turned out to be an Olympian evening featuring two sets. For seven or eight tracks in a row, the music blurred into a generic alt-rap haze, and the skeletal “Two MC's and one DJ” set-up got old.
“Respiration” held to true to its name, as the set was practically on life support. But then Talib took center stage to drop a tongue-twisting, vocab-spewing freestyle that dazzled the throng of old-school hip-hop fiends. Mos Def followed suit, although his off-the-head flow predictably paled in comparison. We did learn, however, that he is a gigantic fan of hot sauce.
After a short break, the MC's and the DJ returned to perform another set almost as long as their first. This one emphasized tracks from Mos's and Talib's solo joints. Again it was a mixed bag; Mos' “History,” Talib's “Supreme Supreme” and the two Reflection Eternal tracks rocked the house, while Moss' Latin excursion “No Hay Nada Mas” elicited more polite amusement than authentic Cali love.
The second set ended with two musical highlights: Kweli's hit “Get By” and Mos' conscious nugget of wisdom “Umi Says.” However, their creators barely did them justice. The pair spent most of the performance at a pace somewhere between steady and somnambulant, and what should have been the frenzied peak of the show became a genial stroll down Intelligent Hip-Hop Lane.
LA-based openers Orgone laid down disco- and Latin-flecked funk, not unlike a latter-day War. They broke out of the Cheech-and-Chong pocket with a mean guitar-spiked instrumental vamp that would have sounded perfect blasting out of a hi-fi at a cocaine- and mustache-laden party in the Hills. If only their energy would have translated to the headliners, we would have had something to remember.
Personal Bias: No “Ms. Fat Booty”?
The Crowd: Multi-racial and weeded.
Overheard in the Crowd: Between sets, at least 50 percent of the crowd was rapping along word for word to Ice Cube's “It Was a Good Day.”
Random Notebook Dump: Mos Def is apparently better on Dexter than he is on stage.
Set List below.
You Already Knew
Auditorium (Mos Def solo)
This Means You
Brown Skin Lady
The Blast (Talib Kweli solo)
B Boys Will B Boys
Talib Kweli freestyle
Mos Def freestyle
Thieves in the Night
History (Mos Def solo)
Supreme, Supreme (Talib Kweli solo)
In This World (Reflection Eternal)
No Hay Nada Mas (Mos Def solo)
Casa Bey (Mos Def solo)
Move Something (Reflection Eternal)
The Glow (Mos Def solo)
Get 'Em High (Kanye West feat. Talib Kweli and Common)
Get By (Talib Kweli)
Umi Says (Mos Def solo)