Sunday, December 7, 2014

black on both sides

Mos Def was holdin' down his square with the new math and shined his light for the world to see in the beneficent testament and hammering hip hop hustle of these songs for inspiration and relaxation.  Born Dante Terrell Smith in Brooklyn, New York, he became involved in acting at a young age, for which he dropped out of school his sophomore year of high school.  

He reveals:    "I’m grateful for those people, people like my brother, people like my grandparents, people like the streets of Brooklyn, people who created Hip Hop out of nothing, out of nuthin'...America had forgotten about New York City. There was a fiscal crisis in the late 70s, early 80s. New York City went to the federal government for aid. The federal government’s response was, 'I’m not gonna be able to do it.' New York City’s response was, 'Bet. No problem. We’re movin on.' And poor people in New York City’s response was, 'We’re going to create the strangest, most beautiful, curious, dynamic art form that the world has seen in the last hundred years. We’re going to rock and shock the world. We’re going to speak only to us, and everybody eventually is going to understand. We’re not going to compromise. We’re only going to be us a hundred percent of the time. Weird, strange, beautiful, aggressive, angry, earnest—all the time. They’ll come around, or they won’t. But we’ll be rockin on.' So, I got a lotta heroes. And Hip Hop is a huge hero for me. I love it…I love its vitality. I love the fact that it speaks to young people the way it spoke to me. It recognized my talent, it recognized that I was beautiful, it recognized that I was lonely, it recognized my despair and it told me, 'Don’t cry, don’t despair. I understand you. I got something for you to do with all your energy. I got something for you to do with the hopefulness in you. I got something for you to do with the anger inside of you, with the sadness inside of you. I got a way for you to turn that around'...While all of this thing with Hip Hop is goin on, and I’m fallin in love with language, you know, with acting, with playwrights. And I remember tellin a guy, you know, I was 15 years old, a guy I looked up to in my neighborhood. And he was askin, 'Yo, what y’all wanna be when y’all grow up?' I was like, 'I wanna be a actor.' He was like, 'You won’t be no actor.' Like that! I was like, 'Maaan, that wasn’t nice.' [Laughter] I wasn’t even mad, I was just like, 'Geez, man, I liked you… I thought we was cool.' But I just took it like—I wasn’t even angry. I was like, 'That’s not true. I am gonna do it.' I didn’t know how I was gonna do it, I just knew that I had to do it." 

In the midst of a successful string of television and movie roles, he began a rap career as well.  He started UTD (Urban Thermo Dynamics) with his brother Derente and sister Ces in 1994 and their album 'Manifest Destiny' was released ten years later.  Mos Def began collaborating with De La Soul and Da Bush Babees before releasing a solo single "Universal Magnetic" on New York indie label Rawkus Records.  He joined with another Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli to create Black Star, releasing the powerful positive underground primer 'Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star' in 1998.  

Mos Def relates:  "I'd done this 12-inch for Rawkus, and they wanted me to do an album, and I didn't want to, after the Payday experience. But me and Kweli were hanging pretty tough. He was working at [Brooklyn bookstore] Nkiru, doing open mics, and he was dope. He had this whole crew, and they were superscientifical. Their rhymes were dense, talking about Egyptology, these guys had the big brains! [Laughs] Then one day, I bought this jazz album, I think it was Milt Jackson and Lionel Hampton, and I said, 'That's it, we need to do a collabo like jazz, a one-album deal.' I was big on being sovereign and free. And they gave us, like, $80,000, $90,000 to record, which was more money than we'd ever seen at one time. I'd just had my first child, and the goal wasn't about trying to become a star, it was to become a real, working artist...Yeah, [other hip hop artists] had Bentleys and shit, and we weren't necessarily mad at them for having Bentleys — that just wasn't our focus. [Laughs] It's not like we were being holy rollers, but goddamn, don't mislead the people. Don't tell 'em they on the yellow brick road and then they crash into a brick wall. That's just not necessary. We were far from perfect; we were out here on the streets like everybody, and we all could've gone down that road. But come on, man, crack was not glamorous, it was not sexy. You know, Japan in the '40s got Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the black community in the '80s got crack. And that shit was like a mushroom cloud you cannot fuckin' imagine. It destroyed many, many lives, and you see people living through that hell, you don't wanna glorify that shit...I mean, get as many diamond chains and fur pajamas and champagne breakfasts as you can, but the chains and pajamas and champagne can't be the endgame — not for us. Reckless capitalism kills black people. This music has given young people in our community a dangerous road map, and at the end of it, if you don't end up in some sort of trouble or grave, you may just end up a fuckin' nut. Extended exposure to commercial rap has got to have some sort of negative psychological impact on you. It's like, this shit is making me tense, this is not uplifting or relaxing, and I'm already living in an anxious environment. New drugs everywhere, violence is looked on as not that big of a deal, our leaders are sociopaths and thieves, the police hate you, and then you turn on the radio, and it's like, pour some champagne on yourself! And how does that look to the rest of the world? To the rest of our neighbors in this country who don't come from our communities? They're like, these people are morons."

His solo debut 'Black on Both Sides' was recorded with several producers:  Diamond D, Ge-ology, 88-Keys, DJ Premier, Ayatollah, D. Prosper, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Psycho Les, DJ Etch-A-Sketch, David Kennedy, and executive producer Mos Def.    The album features Mos Def on bass, congas, percussion, keyboards, drums, vibraphone, and vocals;  with Weldon Irvine on keyboards, Fender Rhodes, and piano;  DJ Etch A Sketch on scratches; on Fender Rhodes;  Johnny Why on guitar; and Busta Rhymes, Talib Kweli, Vinia Mojica, and Q-Tip providing guest vocals.  

 'Black on Both Sides' went to one hundred and ten in the UK, twenty-five on the US Billboard 200, and number three on the US R&B album chart.

'Black on Both Sides' 
full album:

00:00 "Fear Not of Man"   Mos Def 4:28
04:29 "Hip Hop"   Diamond D, Mos Def* 3:16
07:45 "Love"   88-Keys 4:23
12:08 "Ms. Fat Booty"   Ayatollah 3:43
15:52 "Speed Law"   88-Keys 4:16
20:08  "Do It Now" (featuring Busta Rhymes) Mr. Khaliyl 3:49
23:58 "Got"   Ali Shaheed Muhammad 3:27
27:26 "Umi Says"   Mos Def, David Kennedy 5:10
32:37 "New World Water"   Psycho Les 3:11
36:49 "Rock n Roll"   Psycho Les, Mos Def* 5:02
41:52 "Know That" (featuring Talib Kweli) Ayatollah 4:03
45:56 "Climb" (featuring Vinia Mojica) DJ Etch-A-Sketch, Mos Def*, Weldon Irvine* 4:02
49:58     "Brooklyn"   Ge-ology, Mos Def, David Kennedy 5:09
55:08 "Habitat"   DJ Etch-A-Sketch 4:39
59:48 "Mr. Nigga" (featuring Q-Tip) D-Prosper, Mos Def* 5:12
65:00 "Mathematics"   DJ Premier 4:06
69:06 "May–December"   88-Keys, Mos Def 3:29

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