Black Star Sound Motivated By Long-Awaited Album “No Fear Of Time” [Review]
Photo credit: C Flanigan/WireImage
On No Fear of Time, Talib Kweli and Yasiin Bey – as Black Star – seem driven and excited to rap like they’re back in their twenties.
In today’s landscape there is a subculture of rap fans who still want albums with a message. In recent weeks, album releases from Vince Staples, Pusha T, and Action Bronson brought a renewed respect for lyricism and calligraphy, taking their songwriting game to a new level. Next week, Kendrick Lamar Mr. Morale and Big Steps and What a Chris’ DEATHFAME are both down on May 13. This subculture has many more opportunities to provide commentary and dissect lyrics, making connections to hip-hop’s past, present, and future.
How it works Black Star adapt to all this? After many false starts over the years, Yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli finally reunited as Black Star to come out No fear of time, which is entirely produced by madlib and their first project in 24 years. Available only on Luminary (a subscription podcast platform), the album message — according to Kweli — it’s staying true to yourself: “Don’t let time, money, influence, trends dictate the way you move. And to be closer to what’s your heart, whether it’s a belief in God or a set of morals you follow.
In 1998, Black Star debuted at a time when artists like DMX, NORE, Big Pun, OutKast, Master P, Lauryn Hill and JAY-Z were dropping what many now consider their classic albums. Before the duo released their own classic album — Mos Def and Talib Kweli are black stars — in September, a VIBE Next Feature of April of the same year told the story of the birth of the duo of Kweli and Mos. “We started rhyming in the park, no money, no tokens,” Kweli said at the time. “And there’s nothing wrong with loving what you do and doing it for love.” This is the main difference between ’98 Black Star and ’22 Black Star on No fear of time: one half does it for love while the other half does it for love and makes a point. Both Kweli and Bey seem motivated and excited to rap like they’re back in their twenties.
No fear of time is fueled by Black Star’s emotional ties to God, screaming in Brooklyn, grievances with the American political system, and the importance of black property. Recorded guerrilla-style in hotel rooms and locker rooms around the world, the album sounds vintage and smooth as if it just let Madlib’s rhythm tape play on repeat. On “oG,” Bey naturally weaves social awareness, his religion as a devout Muslim, and poetry into his music, resulting in verses with multiple meanings that take more than one listen to decipher. “The parable of the talented, every generation / The wonders and riches of all nations / It’s really silly once considered / The living revelation no soul could escape / So go on, let a sucker say something / ‘Cause even when they say something, they don’t say much,” Bey raps. Kweli arrives with a verse bragging about being independent artists, relying on his intellectual rhyme style: “ Encyclopedia Britannica flow / The gravity to pull a planet, straight insanity / That bust open your cantaloupe flow / We the lions where the antelope roam.”
What works for Black Star is the production of Madlib as a vehicle for these two to discuss love (“Honey. thing the main thing”) in the next one. Although Madlib remains a master of finding samples, it’s not as smooth as listening to his albums with Freddie Gibbs. Namely, it lacks signature track transitions and rolling themes. Still, the album contains some of the Madlib’s most interesting productions, with songs like “Yonders” and “Supreme alchemy”, great examples of Madlib recreating the concrete jungle in audio form, with the pair of songs kicking off the better half of the album. . “The Supreme Alchemy” is also notable because Kweli speaks personally about the passing of her grandmother, Beverly Moorehead. “The days I wish they’d taken me instead of Beverly / I remember Rapsody reminded me that life is ahead of me,” he raps.
There are also some prominent features, mainly from The Roots’ Black Thought on lead single “Frequency”. Alongside his fellow rap titans, Thought shows he no longer needs to prove he’s one of the greatest rhymers on the planet. Kweli uses the collaboration to make a statement about who is king and inspires fans to own something:
“Raise your ass on the throne ’cause it ain’t yours and you know it / Get it out, with the creation of Black Thought and Black Star / Belong to Two One Five Entertainment and Black Star Incorporated / ’cause we let’s not play’ / We defied and melted your plastic operation / The ancestors are proud of us because we are the catalyst for mass decarceration.
As for Bey, many of his verses sound like he styled them, freely chaining thoughts together to create that raw, raw quality of the songs. You can imagine him doing his parts with a red Shure mic in hand, next to Talib, swinging. Whether Bey opted for a more improvised approach to his raps on this album or not, No fear of time has some strong lines from Bey, especially the title track, where he mentions being a survivor of his borough.
It’s inevitable that Black Star fans will draw comparisons between Mos Def and Talib Kweli are black stars and No fear of time. Some of them will be “hate gamers” and argue that we never really needed a “Black Star 2”, given that the former is more complete. After all, it’s a timeless album defined by tracks like “Definition,” “brown skinned lady,” and “Breathing”, has the production of the revered Hi-Tek. But No fear of time still manages to show how Kweli and Bey continue to be guides for the type of lyrical rap that they’ve essentially become older statesmen of. It is encapsulated in a sample of a speech of the late Greg Tate on “No Fear of Time,” where the influential cultural critic describes hip-hop albums as “theory books and guidebooks” made by MCs with “phenomenal memories” who “learned all this material “.
From top to bottom, Black Star didn’t waste the opportunity to teach a lesson. “I drop them non-sequential to bomb frames / You’ll always be the winner if you decide what the metric is,” Kweli raps on “Supreme Alchemy.” If Kweli and Bey’s goal for Black Star’s debut album was to stand on the shoulders of their ancestors, then No fear of time bends down to pull people up. It’s an educational experience about rebelling against the dominant mode of listening and maintaining autonomy and independence from your art, allowing Black Star to continue to shine on its own terms.
Eric Diep has written for Billboard, Complex, Vulture, HipHopDX and XXL. He is a freelance journalist based in Dallas.