November 18, 1999
Black On Both Sides
Despite hip-hop being commercially and creatively stronger than ever, the political content of rap is at an all-time low ...
8 / 10
Despite hip-hop being commercially and creatively stronger than ever, the political content of rap is at an all-time low. Mos Def's debut solo LP, though, is an exhilarating mixture of fiery passion and intelligent rhyming. Like a more street Michael Franti, Mos Def takes a broad platter of complex issues and weaves them into thought-provoking rhymes. Unlike Franti, the raw hip-hop Mos raps over (an inspired, idiosyncratic melange of Native Tongues jazz-hop, '80s soul synths and scuzzy beats) should see him preaching to more than just the converted.
Mos isn't so much politically correct as politically infallible, each of his lyrics dripping with realism and sanity. 'Mr Nigga' shows that financial success can't erase racial prejudice, 'Got' is an angry attack on the gangsta rap lifestyle, while 'Rock N Roll' should be compulsory listening at the Rock'n'Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland, a hungry restatement of rock's true roots. He stumbles a little when comparing Jacko's alleged child-molestation with Woody Allen and Soon-Yi, but it's a solitary fumble.
By not conforming to the wigga-pleasing clichi of gat-totin', - ho-bashin' gangsta, Mos Def has already been accused of being an unthreatening, safe black pop star. But, as Franti observed, white America much prefers a suicidal, homicidal black man to an intelligent one - they're easier to discredit, to destroy. Mos Def is white America's worst nightmare: smart, passionate, talented. And he's going to be massive.
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