Mos Def and Talib Kweli - Club Nokia - 12-15-11
See also: Our Black Star slideshow
Better than: Vanilla Ice's cameo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.
Mos Def and Talib Kweli were already established alternative hip-hop artists when they came together to form Black Star, producing only one album, 1998's Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, before moving on. After 13 years, the duo are back with a new release, set to drop early next year. They're in the midst of a lengthy transatlantic tour.
Perhaps the grind is getting to them, as the two were strangely subdued for the majority of their show at Club Nokia last night. Only a few of their songs reached the excitement level they hit so frequently on record.
Taking the stage fashionably late, the rappers and DJ J Rocc were decked out in snazzy attire and led off with a strong new track, "You Already Knew." It rides a dreamy beat with high-pitched soul samples, slams Rick Perry, and imagines a black Tea Party. Similarly, the recently-released "Fix Up" loops clean funk guitar and drums into a solid foundation atop which Mos and Talib spit boasts and disses. "You doubted us but you're still hating / Wow, we're proud of ya! / Committed to your cause and it's caused you to be a sourpuss."
"Definition" was another highlight, and the "1, 2, 3" vocal hook that made it Black Star's calling card has not suffered in the past decade-plus. Unfortunately, the tempo slowed significantly from then on. The MC's, while lyrically dexterous, did not evince the type of amped-up energy needed to sustain what turned out to be an Olympian evening featuring two sets. For seven or eight tracks in a row, the music blurred into a generic alt-rap haze, and the skeletal "Two MC's and one DJ" set-up got old.
"Respiration" held to true to its name, as the set was practically on life support. But then Talib took center stage to drop a tongue-twisting, vocab-spewing freestyle that dazzled the throng of old-school hip-hop fiends. Mos Def followed suit, although his off-the-head flow predictably paled in comparison. We did learn, however, that he is a gigantic fan of hot sauce.