October 12, 2019 marked the 20th anniversary of his universally lauded album, Black on Both Sides by legendary rapper Yasiin Bey, better known as Mos Def.
This project marked his debut as a solo artist after receiving critical acclaim on his collaborative effort with another veteran rapper, Talib Kweli with their full-length LP, Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star that released just a year before this project.
Released in 1999, Black on Both Sides is a bonafide 90’s rap album that remains a hallmark and defining sound for underground boom-bap hip hop. Despite the vintage production style, Mos Def manages to utilize the sound to create a timeless record that stood the test of time and still bumps even today.
Especially after the tragic deaths of Tupac and Biggie that nearly closed off the golden age of hip-hop, Black on Both Sides serves as a final hoorah to the definitive era.
Due to the album’s timeless feel despite its sound being centered around boom-bap, the album is universally praised as not only one of the best albums of that era but also of all time. The album stands as an ideal introduction to 90’s boom-bap due to its accessibility and timeless sound.
With passionate and thought-provoking lyrics mixed with an effortless flow dispersed throughout the project, it’s clear to see that Mos utilized the album to restore sociopolitical consciousness into the rap game and bring hip-hop back to its roots/foundation.
The song, “Mathematics” is a prime example of this which is filled with meticulously-crafted lyrics and effortless delivery. Under a beat laced by legendary producer DJ Premier, the Mighty Mos Def addresses the racist prison industrial complex that particular targets people of color:
“When the average minimum wage is $5.15/
You best believe you’ve got to find a new grind to get cream/
The white unemployment rate is nearly more than triple for black/
Some front-liners got their gun in your back/
Bubbling crack, jewel theft and robbery to combat poverty/
And end up in the global jail economy/”
Regardless of the fact that this album came out in ‘99, many of the bars Mos spits are still relevant today. Mos reveals that many social issues that plagued the world then still exist today and time has shown that it has only gotten worse. Further in the same song, he spits about the growing use of government surveillance:
“40% of Americans own a cell phone/
So they can hear everything that you say when you ain’t home/
I guess Michael Jackson was right, you are not alone/”
Besides the overarching effort to spread awareness and enlighten his listeners, Mos does come through with more lighthearted tracks such as “Ms. Fat Booty” where he tells a story of a girl he met at a club who eventually ghosted him. He flexes his story-telling ability and his delivery demonstrates just how vivid of a picture he can paint with his bars.
Some more standout tracks from the album that you should listen to include “Hip Hop”, “Do It Now” featuring Busta Rhymes, and “UMI Says”.
As mentioned earlier, this project is flawless from top to bottom and is a shining example of sharp Mos Def’s pen and flow is. With a signature 90’s sound, he manages to create an album that stood the test of time sonically and is still relevant in today’s politically charged environment.
Go peep this joint!
Written by: Johann Oribello