When thinking of classics an album one that tends to be forgotten by many is Yassin Bey’s Black on Both Sides. Yassin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, is known to be one of the founding fathers of conscious rap along with his former partner Talib Kweli. Together they were known as Black Star, a formidable duo that would make music full of conscious rap which they used to touch on social issues of the time and tell of life in New York through their eyes. They released their first and only collective debut Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star in 1998 after putting both of their solo debut projects on hold due to the undeniable chemistry they had between one another. Black Star went on to be praised by critics and fans because of their lyricism and introspective raps, something that at the time was not very common in the rap game. In regards to Black on Both Sides, this album was no different in regards to him and Kweli’s methods to success. Although Talib was nowhere to be found on this LP except on the track Know That, Mos seemed to have little to no problem holding his own through his hard hitting bars touching on issues like the evolution of hip-hop. Interestingly one of my favorite verses within this album is within the very first track.
“Hip-Hop is going where we’re going. So the next time you ask yourself where hip-hop is going ask yourself: Where am I going? How am I doing? ‘til you get a clear idea.”
He also elaborates on issues like racism, love and the growing violence in his hometown and amongst the black community. Something that makes this album so special is that it was different than what other rappers were putting out at the time. When this album dropped in the latter end of 1999, not many rappers were rapping about real world problems. Keep in mind months before this album’s release a rapper by the name of Slim Shady or Eminem became hip-hop’s newest buzz after releasing his debut The Slim Shady LP. Not only was he the newest thing because of his endorsement by one of the best producers in the rap game or his extremely obscene lyrics, or even his “I don’t give a fuck” personality. He was white….. and he was good. Meanwhile the majority of the rap game was transitioning into the Bling Era with artists like the Hot Boys and many others rapping about their excessive jewelry and women. This is something that made Yassin’s debut LP stand out from the rest just like Eminem’s. It strayed from the norm.
I must also praise the features on this project from Busta Rhymes on the hard hitting track “Do it Now” to Vinia Mojica’s vocals on the track “Climb”. The singles on this LP are also memorable. The song “Got” was more like a lesson of what not to do or wear in the streets of New York while the song “Umi Says” moved into a more jazz vibe in which he says his Umi, which is mother in Arabic, said to shine his light on the world. Although these singles were memorable I’d have to say the most unforgettable is “Mathematics”. In this song Yassin uses extremely clever wordplay to analyze sociological statistics. I’d have to say not only is this track amazing, but it goes down as one of the best rap songs of all time. This LP closes on a beautiful note with “May-December” which is nothing but an instrumental that was well produced by 88 Keys and Yassin himself.
Unfortunately after this LP his next projects did not live up to the hype that his debut did. Yassin went on to become more of a producer than a rapper and his second project “The New Danger” which came out in 2004 did do as well as his debut. Today he is still seen as a rap legend and lives in South Africa claiming that it’s hard for him to create to the degree of fullness here in America. Even though his projects after this one did not do so well, he still inspires many hip-hop artists today and his legacy is one that is unforgettable.