Review Summary: While containing two lesser tracks, Black On Both Sides is a classic. Featuring both incredible production and rhyme skills, the true power of the album is that it is goddamn enjoyable.
Mos Def – Black On Both Sides
Mos Def, better known to some as the other half of the duo Black Star, is a multi talented rapper. While his MC-skills are to say the least, impressive, he can also sing and is a multi-instrumentalist. He actually plays most of the live instrumentation like bass, keyboards and percussion himself. And on top of that all, he's also enjoying a moderatly succesfull acting career.
1. Fear Not of Man
The song starts out with tribal sounding drums accompanied by a human beatbox, until Mos Def kicks in with a small update about the current state of Hip-Hop.
You know what's gonna happen with Hip-Hop?
Whatever's happening with us
If we smoked out, Hip-Hop is gonna be smoked out
If we doin alright, Hip-Hop is gonna be doin alright
People talk about Hip-Hop like it's some giant livin in the hillside
comin down to visit the townspeople
We are Hip-Hop
Me, you, everybody, we are Hip-Hop
So Hip-Hop is goin where we goin
So the next time you ask yourself where Hip-Hop is goin
ask yourself.. where am I goin? How am I doin?”
The song continues with Mos Def talking about various things until his rapping finally kicks in at the 3 minute mark and you’re immediately overwhelmed by Mos Def’s incredible rhyming ability and recognisable voice. A nice first track. 4/5
Opposite to the first song, this one starts out immediately with a modern, more in your face style beat. Again, Mos Def talks about the current state of Hip-Hop and especially the industry that’s behind the music. A good song, but doesn’t really stand out, although the lyrics are, again, supreme. 3.5/5
One of the more accessible tracks, about his youth and his ability to rhyme. Fans of Eric. B and Rakim may recognise the chorus from their track “I Know You Got Soul”. This song also features one of the best lines of the album:
“I MC, which means I Must Cultivate the earth”
Again not a standout track, but it fits pretty good. 4/5
4. Ms. Fat Booty
The first single. It describes several scenes of Mos Def meeting a women. Needless to say, Mos shines again, this time with his incredibly story telling ability. The chorus is built on a sample by “The Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin. One of the stand out tracks, and a recommendation if you’re to get into this. 5/5
5. Speed Law
An awesome song with a more electronic, moving beat, with a haunting guitar melody through it. A good song to play while driving. 4/5
6. Do It Now
This continues the more electronic style, this time with a more bouncy atmosphere, if you know what I mean. It features a guest appearance by Busta Rhymes, and although I’m not that big on Busta, his energetic voice/flow provides a nice change. 4.5/5
Produced by A Tribe Called Quests Ali Shaheed Muhammad, this features a more laid back style, with Mos Def rapping calmly about respect and decency in his neighbourhood. “But I'm from Brooklyn, certain *** you just don't do”
8. Umi Says
The first song in which Mos shows his ability to sing. While he’s a better MC than a singer, you really feel that he loves singing, and he puts a lot of emotion into his voice. The song is supported by funky bass playing and a jazzy keyboard. 4/5
9. New World Water
The least interesting track of the album. The lyrics, about, you guessed it, water, sound a bit uninspired and are definitely the least interesting on the album, although they deliver a good social-conscious message. Still, the production saves it a bit. 3/5
10. Rock ’n Roll
Although the production is interesting (Mos rocking out to a guitar riff contributed by Johnny Why), the lyrics are a bit ironic. Mos criticises various white musicians (Elvis, Rolling Stones) of stealing their style from black musicians
“You May Dig On The Rolling Stone, But Everything They Did Was Stole”
While they’re certainly influenced by old blues artists (Being influenced is not a bad thing), saying that while directly copying the Red Hot Chili Peppers in “Brooklyn” is stupid. 3/5
11. Know That
Featuring incredibly funky production, this immediately makes up for the previous two tracks. His old Black Star companion Talib Kweli makes a strong guest appearance, and Mos returns with his amazing lyrical ability. One of the best songs. 5/5
Another track in which Mos sings, this time in a duet with Vinia Mojica. Although not a stand-out track, it’s a nice change in tempo and Vinia’s singing is amazingly relaxing. 4/5
A shout-out to his neighbourhood, Brooklyn. The song is divided in three parts, each having their own charm and style. The first, interpolating the Chili Peppers, is the most relaxing. The second is a bit more active and remises of moving, active city. The third is the darkest featuring more of the dark, criminal of Brooklyn, noticable both in the lyrics and in the style of beat. 3.5/5
Built on a sweet flute melody, Mos talks about having a home/habitat, a place you feel safe and comfortable, and the song really gives you that feeling. "And regardless where home is, son home is mine4/5
15. Mr. Nigga
Featuring Q-tip, this song feels like a Tribe Called Quest song, and the chorus sorts of interpolates ATCQ’s “Sucka Nigga”. While lyrically starting with Mos bragging about his lyrical skills, he uses his story telling ability to turn it a critique of racism. 4.5/5
The best song on this album. Produced by DJ Premier, it has Mos adressing various social issues with an incredible flow, using statistics in mathematical order to prove his point. The chorus is really catchy, with Premier using his amazing sampling ability to create it. 5/5
An instrumental track which has a awesome atmosphere and lets you cool down after the beast that is “Mathematics” 4/5
Although an incredible album full of quality rhymes, the true strength of this is that it is so goddamn enjoyable. A true classic.
- Rhyming Skills
- Rock ‘n Roll, New World Water.