RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition. He does have an amazing PATREON, but also *normal* ARTIST WEBSITE too.

Monday, May 21

EWA100 - #44. Black Star - Definition

44. Black Star - Definition (Rawkus. 1998. From the LP Black Star)

Mike Dikk: Black Star and their single “Definition” came out during a time where it felt like underground “backpacker” rap could finally destroy mainstream “jiggy” rap once and for all. Of course we all know that didn’t happen, but it’s crazy to think all the way back to seven years ago that so called underground rap like all that shit on Rawkus was selling just as much, or even more, than whatever bullshit passes for mainstream rap today.

I suppose most people could argue with me about the statement I’m about to make, but I feel this song was more about being released at the right time more than it being a really great, memorable song that stands the test of time. I’m not saying I don’t like the song, but its retooling of old school concepts was really a breath of fresh air for the time. I don’t think it would have had the same impact if it was released two or three years later, or even earlier for that matter. It came out at just the right time when people were really getting sick of Puff Daddy and Bad Boy Records, and white people were finally ready to embrace their afrocentric soulful sides. Suburbanites were throwing away their No Limit medallions left and right and grooving to the non-threatening sounds of Talib Kweli and Mos Def.
I don’t really remember the logistics behind it, but after Black Star’s lone LP was released, they decided to go solo. Mos Def did Black on Both Sides, which a lot of people liked almost as much as Black Star. I’m really not one of those people, and it’s safe to say neither Mos nor Talib really did anything that great afterward. Maybe a song here and there, but never anything as monumental as this single or the LP it’s from.
That brings me back to my whole point that this song was more timely than it was classic. If these guys were so fucking awesome, why didn’t they ever do anything to rival it? They are basically still relevant only because of this record, and that’s a long time to coast off of one pretty awesome release. I won’t lie though. I think Mos Def is a good actor, and he coined the term “Tall Israeli”, which is a fancy way of saying Jews Who Run The Media, and it’s hard to hate on anyone for coming up with something that clever.
I still have hope for Talib too, but overall, I think there were a lot more people, including people who helped make this list, that liked Black Star a lot more than I did. So their combined abysmal failures aren’t really heartbreaking to me. I was more concerned when Onyx decided to release like eight bad records in a row to the point where it caused this weird reverse psychology effect on my brain where I now also hate their one good record in spite of all their purposely shitty records. So it’s probably for the better that I never put Black Star on a pedestal as the saviors of Conscious Rap and only regarded them as a pretty decent rap group that didn’t suck as much as all the other groups that were sucking at the moment.

Raven Mack: The Black Star movement was probably right at the end of my buy-everything-by-Rawkus stage in material consumption. And I dug Black Star well enough, and still have this single on vinyl, but were I to have represented these guys on this list without the cluttered help of a panel (you'll have to forgive me as I'm about to get mad expert whiteboyish), there's no doubt in my mind this would not even be here and in it's place would be "Fortified Live", which was released as a Reflection Eternal single, which was Talib and Hi-Tek's group, with Mos Def and Mr. Man of the Bush Babees on it, because that song is a motherfuckin' classic and a half. So much so, that they made a shitty second-rate remake of it on the Black Star record (that "twice inna lifetime like a Haley's Comet" song, which is a pile of shit compared to the original).
And I have to admit, I bought Black on Both Sides excitedly after this, though never through them on any pedestals, because I'm mostly a fan of unconscious rap, where people aren't yet aware of their self's standing in the village of hip hop, and by the time I had played Black on Both Sides, I realized Mos Def was mostly a Sunday afternoon throwback show, retooling older shit.
In fact, that brings me to what influence "Definition" has on my life nowadays. My oldest kid is now 8-years-old, and being the offspring of retarded people, she has pretty retarded musical tastes. "Definition" was her favorite song when she was like 4. I do not know how it came to be this way, but she loved it. (I think maybe my wife copped my Black Star tape without me knowing, perhaps thinking it was a reggae tape of some sorts due to the cover.) Well, I busted out the single to play for my daughter, who danced in the Christmas lights gleam for fifteen minutes straight, to the radio verson, the original version, and the instrumental. This led to me making tapes of radio versions of singles for my kid to listen to, because I don't need my sweet little kids running around going "fuck" this and "fuck" that. But about a year ago, I was digging through some old tapes and I dug out By Any Means Necessary by BDP, which has "My Philosophy", which is where Mos Def phonetically sampled the hook for "Definition" from, and I played it for my daughter to see if she recognized it. She did, and I figured this would be some grand illumination for her, so I stood at the stove, probably cooking some roadkill deer meat or some shit in the frying pan for dinner, expecting some grand nugget of realization from her, and the song ended and she goes, "Play the real one now, daddy." And my kid's not even a retarded kid doing the chicken noodle soup dance or whatever and shit like a public school kid. (So you know, I'm a kook homeschooler, not a privileged private schooler. We're too broke for that shit, so we figure if the kids gotta learn crazy shit, according to the law, we'd rather it be our crazy shit.)
So I guess I can appreciate a respect for the old school, but somewhere along the way I lost respect for Mos Def since a ton of his shit was just old school songs redone with his murky voice. And Talib is like that guy that always should've been something but never really amounted to nothing. I can dig on Talib a ton when he's in the zone, but I'm not one of those weird whiteboy types that think Black Star is like seriously the greatest shit ever to have been rapped, who usually date white girls who think Lauryn Hill is the greatest thing to ever have been rapped.
But yeah, this is a great enough song, but if you have to seek shit out and you're not rap dork enough to already have the entire Rawkus catalog on your beatpod robot machine, you should seek out "Fortified Live" as well, because it better captures that freestyle happy-for-life hype mode that made underground rap when Rawkus was a torchbearer back then so goddamned awesome, before underground got too nerdy and scientific and anime-like and broke into three thousand different little camps of "must-hear" collectives that tended to give me headaches after too much listening.

Download: Black Star - Definition

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