Discography Check: Mos Def and Talib Kweli

By @TrueGodImmortal

Two Brooklyn born and bred MCs, Mos Def and Talib Kweli earned their claim to fame through the legendary indie underground label, Rawkus Records. My first memory of both MCs was as Blackstar together, and that's how I will always see them. Sure, they've had really good solo careers and Mos has even went into film successfully, but musically they will always be attached due to their official debuts being together as Blackstar. With that in mind, I wanted to look back at each man's discography and how their albums hold up over the years. Let's get into it.

*Blackstar- Mos Def And Talib Kweli Are Blackstar (1998)

-This is one of my all time favorite hip hop albums ever. It was my first time hearing both Talib and Mos, and their marriage between lyrics and beats (mostly provided by Hi-Tek) was beautiful. Mos spits some of the best verses I've ever heard on "Thieves In The Night",  "Respiration", "Hater Players", and "Definition". Talib wasn't a slouch either and he would come with some concise verses as well, but Mos was the MVP of this album. The production ranged from boom bap and hard hitting to lush and soulful, providing the perfect balance for the MCs to spit over. When I look back at this album, I often wish I could have been a fly on the wall during those sessions because the creative zone they were in seems like once in a lifetime.

Top 3 Songs 
"Thieves In The Night"
"Brown Skin Lady"

*Mos Def- Black On Both Sides (1999)

-Mos took his first shot at a solo album and the result is another classic. I think it's telling that for his first two albums out the gate, Mos comes with classics. Though I'm partial to Blackstar over this album, this is still one of the best albums of the late 90s in my opinion, with songs that hit hard like "Hip Hop", "Love", "Mathematics", "Umi Says", and of course, my favorite, "Mr. Nigga". In addition to that, how could one deny the sensibility behind the superb "New World Water", and the amazing soulful production behind one of the most infamous hip hop storytelling songs, "Ms. Fat Booty". There's really nothing to dislike about this album, as lyrics, concepts, and production are all pretty much flawless.

Top 3 Songs 
"Ms. Fat Booty"
"Mr. Nigga"
"Umi Says"

*UTD/Urban Thermal Dynamics- Manifest Destiny (1999/2004)

-The group that Mos started with his family, which has his younger brother DCQ and his younger sister Ces, recorded this album during the prime of Mos' career. For some reason, this album is hard to find (YouTube works wonders), but it's not a bad listen at all surprisingly. Mos, DCQ, and Ces all deliver on an album that has good production and good vibes, and the lyrics don't disappoint either. "Hardcore Nights" and "Victory" are tracks that you definitely need to check out.

Top 3 Songs 
"Moon In Cancer"
"Front Line"

*Reflection Eternal- Train Of Thought (2000)

-Talib tries his hard at another duo album, and in reality, it's a solo with a producer that raps here and there. He and Hi-Tek combined to make Reflection Eternal and the result is yet another Rawkus Records classics. From the booming production of "Down For The Count" and "Move Somethin", all the way down to the soulful reflective vibe on "Memories Live" and the hit song "The Blast", Hi-Tek doesn't disappoint on the boards and Kweli doesn't disappoint with the lyrics, as he drops gem after gem in his verses. The go to song for me on this album however is always "Memories Live", a song that truly can put you in the most relaxing vibe.

Top 3 Songs 
"Memories Live"
"The Blast"
"Down For The Count"

*Talib Kweli- Quality (2002)

-Kweli decided to break away from the group/duo style and go for his own. This solo effort from him is another classic, or at least close to a classic, keep his string of great projects going. What stands out about this album is his willingness to experiment with producers and just sounds in general. He works with J. Dilla, Kanye West, The Soulquarians, and DJ Quik, all legendary names in hip hop. The songs spawned from working with these producers are the best on the album, from the smooth Bilal assisted "Talk to You", to the Novel and Vinia Mojica assisted "Stand To The Side", and even the Kanye assisted and produced posse track "Guerrilla Monsoon Rap" with Black Thought and Pharoahe Monch. Overall, this album is really dope and showcases Talib at his best, and proves he can hold down an entire album himself.

Top 3 Songs 
"Talk To You (Lil Darlin)"
"Good To You"
"Stand To The Side"

*Mos Def- The New Danger (2004)

-The streak of great albums or classics had to come to an end right? It was bound to happen. Mos misses a bit on this album which blends hip hop, funk, soul and rock together. It wasn't a bad album by any stretch, it's just that after a 5 year solo absence, many of us wanted to see more rapping and a different sound from Mos. However, the songs that work here are great. Mos tends to get a bit too experimental on some tracks, but when he executed correctly with "The Panties", "Close Edge", "Sunshine", and a few other songs, it makes you wish he executed a few of the rock tinged songs a little better. Still, this is a good album, just one that pales in comparison to his previous releases.

Top 3 Songs 
"The Panties"
"Champion Requiem"

*Talib Kweli- The Beautiful Struggle (2004)

-It's as if Mos and Talib both agreed to end their streaks of amazing albums together. Right as Mos ended his streak with The New Danger, Talib does the exact same with The Beautiful Struggle. Blame the move from MCA (which was bought out I believe) to Geffen (Interscope umbrella), but the songs here just didn't connect in the right manner. I found it tough to enjoy all the way, but Kweli didn't disappoint lyrically for the most part. Production is a bit weak and the songs themselves miss the mark, making this the worst album in the Kweli catalog IMO.

Top 3 Songs 
"Around My Way"
"Never Been In Love"
"I Try"

*Talib Kweli- Right About Now (2005)

-Considered more of a mixtape than an album, I enjoyed this release from Talib, though it was a bit uneven. It was meant to celebrate independence from Geffen, and while there were some highlights like the Lauryn Hill letter "Ms. Hill", the Blackstar reunion "Supreme Supreme", and appearances from MF Doom, Jean Grae, and Papoose, overall this release was just good. Nothing really bad, but also nothing that great either. Production was solid, and I enjoyed the songs on initial listen, but some of them just don't hold up as well on repeat listens. Kweli was trying to return to form after the Beautiful Struggle mishap.

Top 3 Songs 
"Supreme Supreme"
"Roll Off Me"
"Fly That Knot"

*Mos Def- True Magic (2006)

-I can't lie, I love this album. It's uneven. It's all over the place. However, this album got me through a tough period in life surprisingly. There was a sense of freedom within this album for me and it could found in the free sequencing and release of this album. It was released with no cover officially, just the CD in the package and I had no idea initially what the tracklist was and it forced me to listen to every song. I was glad that I did. While a few songs missed the mark, overall I really enjoyed every song here for different reasons. Whether the breakup song "U R The One" backed by the beautiful soul sample, or the inspirational "There Is A Way", all the way down to the smooth "Fake Bonanza", this album showcases Mos back in his lane. Honestly, if Mos had any put more effort into promoting and polishing this project, it really had potential to be another top tier album. However, his laziness with that is why this album is remembered in a not so favorable way, but to me personally, this is a very dope project.

Top 3 Songs 
"U R The One"
"Fake Bonanza"
"There Is A Way"

*Talib Kweli and Madlib- Liberation (2006)

-You can't go wrong with Madlib production, and if you have a dope MC atop his beats, it's even better. This EP, which was released free via Stones Throw, was one of my favorite releases of 2007. The features here range from Consequence to Strong Arm Steady, and this is a very bright spot in Kweli's discography, and a good way to bounce back officially after two projects that didn't 100% hit the mark.

Top 3 Songs 
"Funny Money"
"The Function"
"Soul Music"

*Talib Kweli- Eardrum (2007)

-It's almost as if Mos and Kweli keep parallels in their careers. As Mos returned with a solid yet uneven effort in True Magic, Kweli comes with a really dope album in Eardrum. Almost as dope as his first two projects, it is a huge step up from than The Beautiful Struggle. With production from Madlib, Kanye West, Will.I.Am, Pete Rock, Just Blaze and more, Kweli pulled out all of the big hitters on the producer side, making this his best produced album by far. Feature wise, Kweli also brings out some unexpected guests, as he works with Justin Timberlake, Norah Jones, UGK, Will.I.Am, Sizzla, and Musiq Soulchild. Kweli really went all out for this album, and I think it is in the running to be at the top of his discography. He reached beyond the genre for features and still kept it hip hop to the highest power. This was a big victory.

Top 3 Songs
"More Or Less"
"Soon The New Day"
"In The Mood"

*Mos Def- The Ecstatic (2009)

-Many felt was an alternative hip hop record, and I can understand that. I think those tend to be some of the best type of hip hop albums, as we've seen The Roots excel with those for over 20 years. Mos utilizes different samples and sounds through the album, and it's something that I really appreciated hearing. He featured Kweli on this project, as well as Slick Rick and Georgia Anna Muldrow, both who seemed to complement well on their respective songs. Oh No and Madlib shine as producers here as well, and Mos sounds more focused on this album that he had since the Blackstar/Black On Both Sides days. It was a welcome return to form.

Top 3 Songs 
"Workers Comp"

*Reflection Eternal- Revolutions Per Minute (2010)

-The reunion of Hi-Tek and Kweli wasn't met with the same amount of fanfare as the first album, but this was still a solid project. It wasn't in the same league as Train Of Thought, but Hi-Tek got to show his versatility as a producer, and Kweli got to work with some of the newer MCs like J Cole and Jay Electronica. Features include Bilal, Estelle, Chester French, Res,  and not to mention Bun B also. My only gripe with the album was that I think they should have cut it to 12 or 13 tracks, instead of 17. Still a great listen, just wish they cut down the tracklist a few songs.

Top 3 Songs 
"Just Begun"
"Midnight Hour"

*Talib Kweli- Gutter Rainbows (2011)

-I was late to hear this album, but I'm glad I did. Though not in the same class as Train Of Thought, Quality, or Eardrum, this album was solid. I had personally written off Kweli and this album reminded me of what he was capable of. It's a solid listen all around as production is good, and the songs are good as well, but it lacks that extra vibe that made his other albums so great. Still a nice return after a four year hiatus from album making, and with features from Jean Grae and Sean Price, he kept the essence in tact.

Top 3 Songs 
"Cold Rain"
"Uh Oh"

*Talib Kweli- Prisoner of Conscious (2013)

-I was skeptical of this album when I heard the title, but this album really didn't disappoint. With the features and heavy production, this album invoked memories of Eardrum in a way. He worked with a number of big names in the industry from Marsha Ambrosius, J. Cole (who only did production here), Kendrick Lamar, RZA (production), Busta Rhymes, Nelly (a surprise), Curren$y, Miguel, and Melanie Fiona. The album doesn't necessarily fit with the title exactly, but overall, there's enough dope music to consider this effort a success. It had really solid production and the guest appearances didn't disappoint either.

Top 3 Songs 
"Come Here"
"Push Thru
"Human Mic"

*Talib Kweli- Gravitas (2013)

-The last officially released solo Kweli album is another solid effort. I was excited to hear it because he worked on a number of records with Q-Tip leading up to the album, but for some reason, those songs missed the album. Still, this was a dope release and featured a bit more of a focus on the essence of hip hop than his other albums, with features from Big KRIT, Raekwon, Rah Digga, and Black Thought. This was much more underground in sound, and even features a production from J. Dilla. Comparably speaking, I prefer this album slightly over Gutter Rainbows and Prisoner of Conscious.

Top 3 Songs 
"Art Imitates Life"

*Talib Kweli and 9th Wonder- Indie 500 (2015)

-I almost forgot this album existed because it didn't make as many waves as it should have. Kweli goes back to his flawless duo formula, this time with legendary producer 9th Wonder and the result is beyond solid. 9th provides the amazing production and the features here also work well with Rapsody, Problem, Pharoahe Monch, and other dope MCs. This is a pretty good album, not perfect, but features enough solid production and lyricism to be an enjoyable listen.

Top 3 Songs 
"Which Side Are You On"
"Every Ghetto"
"Life Ahead Of Me"

*Mos Def/Yasiin Bey & Ferrari Sheppard- December 99th (2017)

-The less said about this album, the better. I think many of us are waiting for a glimpse of the Black On Both Sides Mos and we are getting this version and it's disappointing. This album, which was released as 2017 began, is about as uneven and boring as expected. There are a few highlights, but both the vocals and production suffer and Mos no longer seems lyrically focused at all. The less said about this, the better, once again.

Top 3 Songs 
"Tall Sleeves"
"Local Time"
"Special Dedication"

What the future holds for both MCs is unknown, but I hope it equals something amazing for Mos. Kweli seems to be comfortable and will likely release another good project in the future, whereas Mos has experienced some issues and his music has suffered as a result. Hopefully his final projects turn out better than his last one on this discography check. Though it's not likely at all, I still wish we could have got that last Blackstar album. That would be the perfect way to leave, Mos/Yasiin.



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