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In many ways, the 1998 classic Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star was a product of its time; A response to the volatile state of the rap game and sociopolitical issues, the duo’s conscious backpack rhymes and boombap beats cut through it all as a beacon of hope. Well 24 years later, time has been kind and proven a need for them once again. On the highly anticipated No Fear of Time, Black Star are able to adapt their core messages to a modern context to great success.
Find the solace in the dark that the light is not afraid of the dark
That part, the kids should light a spark, that’s art
But don’t be confused, you won’t put me to the screws
Bey do what Bey do, beneath the sun and moon
Fully produced by the legendary Madlib, No Fear of Time never beats the listener over the head. Far more understated than his usual work, the beats are rather dreamy and wandering. Rather than the quirky, heavily chopped jazz of Madvillainy, for example, we get a more traditionally boombap soundscape with a psychedelic motif. It matches the MC’s themes well, and truly feels like floating through a different plane of existence – One beyond space, time, and the conversely worldly issues Black Star rap about.
Even with two of the greatest lyricists of all time, many have been skeptical of how sharp they might still be on the mic after all these years. Not only do Yasiin and Talib put those worries to rest, but they tackle the concept of time, aging, and the spirit beautifully. Their chemistry remains palpable; While Talib still spits and manages to fit more syllables in a line than you’d think possible, Yasiin keeps an unpredictable delivery and abstract, non sequitur bars on top of the occasional crooned bridge.
Over the years, Yasiin has famously grown more and more religious. This shines in his lyrics beautifully as he drops technically simple lyrics which are pregnant with meaning. Talib on the other hand, often seen as second fiddle by many, steals the show on No Fear of Time. From a pure rapping perspective, this is arguably his best album long performance ever; Every verse of his is a constant barrage of rhymes and poignant commentary. “Secret Alchemy” in particular stands out as an instant classic verse for him. Additionally, the great and frequent collaborator Black Thought drops a deeply personal, hard hitting verse on “Freequency” speaking on his love for the genre.
Bout to holler at Yasiin and move to Africa…
Brooklyn got the best rappers per capita
It must be noted that this is an extremely dense album. Light on hooks and packed with constant, deep bars, it demands attention and study. The duo’s original values of Afrocentrism and spirituality are at the forefront more than ever, tackled expertly from their more mature perspectives. They do not simply say that there are problems in the world like many surface level conscious MC’s; Rather, they show a true passion for their beliefs and offer solutions. Whether it be resettlement, knowledge of self, or the state of politics, you know these are men who have dedicated their lives to hiphop culture and the betterment of its people.
To many, time is a merely human construct. But to those with wisdom, it serves as no obstacle for greatness. Not only does Madlib continue to add to his legacy and match his friends and frequent collaborators on No Fear of Time, but Black Star has held true to their promise of a sequel which stacks up, after all these years, to a cornerstone of the genre. No Fear of Time is a powerful listen, reminiscent of great comebacks such as A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, and simply one of the best hiphop albums of recent years.