October 12, 2021

Mos Def "Black On Both Sides" (October 12, 1999)

As passionate a lobbyist for hip-hop's expressive potential as you're likely to find in '99, Mos Def has already enjoyed a storied minor-league career. He's stolen scenes from De La Soul and Q-Tip, lively'd up the studious beats of DJs Krush and Honda, and loomed large as half of Black Star, the only hip-hop duo that owns its own Africana bookstore. And while singles like the almost Ellingtonian "Travellin' Man" are a tough act to follow, his solo debut Black On Both Sides is a stunner, cultivating a surprisingly hard edge (on tracks like the darkly trenchant "Hip-Hop"), while stepping knee-deep into the sumptuous soul-jazz Black Star only flirted with. The problem with Both Sides is that its sweep can feel a little preordained. Mos is clearly out to craft a hip-hop classic, as epochal as A Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory or Eric B & Rakim's Follow The Leader. But those albums defined eras only in retrospect. By comparison, the self referential gravitas of Both Sides, especially coming from the once gloriously-casual Mos, make it feel like a compelling novel that's already (to quote Mr. Def) "a screenplay sold to Miramax." Still, for a fresh-faced MC's coming-out jam, this set is as front-to-back stacked as the love object in Mos's "Ms. Fat Booty." And if the man behind it quits striving for timelessness, the prospects are tantalizing. (Besides, you gotta love an MC who takes time out to put Limp Bizkit in their place). - CMJ (January, 2000). An interesting review... it makes me wonder if Mos took it to heart, because he's since lived a career of pivots and genre-bending music, while still remaining one of thee greatest lyricists of our generation! Ironically, we can now say in retrospect, that Both Sides was surely a classic that helped define the independent era of hip-hop, especially in NYC! I'm waiting for a big comeback project from Mos Def!

A definitive classic in the independent era of NYC hip-hop...