Review Summary: An ambitious, intelligent and expansive hip-hop album.
Following up on the critically acclaimed release of Black Star
's self titled album, Mos Def flew solo and the end result was Black On Both Sides
. It's an excellent way to round out the decade for hip-hop, which had rooted itself even further into mainstream culture throughout the decade and had become more and more commercially viable.
The seeds that were planted on 1998's Black Star
have grown somewhat and Mos Def has branched out slightly. The throught-provoking lyrics and social commentary are still ever present, but this time around there is more variation in the sound, which is important due to the album clocking in at just over seventy minutes.
It avoids ever being too repetitive, or uninspired. A few of the album highlights are where Mos Def strays from the confines of the convential rap song. This is most evident on Umi Says
, where a chilled out vibe is created with a Fender Rhodes (courtesy of WillIAm if the liner notes are to be believed) and the bass guitar line supplied by Mos Def himself. The rapid fire hip hop delivery is largely abandoned here in favour of sung vocals and the results are pretty incredible.
The album begins with Fear Not of Man
, which begins with a beat and Mos addressing the state of hip hop in spoken word. The final track, May-December
, is a relaxing instrumental with bass and vibraphone provided by Mos Def and keyboards from Weldon Irvine. It's a perfect way to bookend the album and it's even better in the context of the two tracks it follows, which are two of the 'heavier' tracks lyrically.
Another key point to illustrate the album's varied sound is the range of producers. Despite such an array of different styles and approaches it never feels thrown together or like a compilation album, which is a real risk when you employ that method. Instead, it works in the record's favour. DJ Premier supplies a notable beat, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest
produces one track too. It's also worth noting that the amount of guest vocal performers on the record is quite low, which is suprising for a rap record of this length. Talib Kweli
appears on Know That
, Vinia Mojica sings on Climb
and Busta Rhymes
on Do It Now
, as well as some creative vocal sampling on Mathematics
but Mos Def drives the album without ever needing to recycle his lyrics.
And that's what is most impressive of all - the lyrical content. It covers everything from brilliant story-telling (Ms. Fat Booty
) to well thought-out social commentaries (one track focuses on the importance of water as a natural resource). The lyrical stand-outs are Mathematics
and Hip Hop
All things considered, this is an excellent hip-hop album which ticks just about all of the boxes. Next time someone you know dismisses hip hop for having shallow lyrical content, people who can't play any instruments and albums being weighed down with guest appearances, this would be a great record to introduce them to.