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Black Star - No Fear of Time Music Album Reviews

Black Star - No Fear of Time Music Album Reviews
The long-awaited sequel to the duo’s classic debut contains bursts of inspired lyricism, but a lack of chemistry and uninspired production make this a disappointing follow-up.

Black Star have always been preoccupied with the passage of time. Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def) and Talib Kweli’s 1998 debut Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star tied references to Black popular culture from across eras—the 1997 drama Eve’s Bayou, DJ Clue mixtapes, Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti’s “Black Man’s Cry,” and Toni Morrison novels—to a then-evolving consciousness within hip-hop in general and the streets of Brooklyn in particular. Across the album, Bey and Kweli balanced fierce intellect with a perceived sense of duty in their quest to protect hip-hop culture from the Diddy-led shiny suit era. There was an expansiveness to their rhymes and interplay, especially on songs like “Astronomy (8th Light)” and “Thieves in The Night,” where both rappers displayed an urgency to combat violence, ignorance, and commercialism with patois and àses. They weren’t the first or the last to take up this mantle, and the progressive fervor in their lyrics was slightly muted when it came to gender, but Bey and Kweli’s youthful vigor cut the distance between a corner cipher and an issue of the defunct Brooklyn newspaper The City Sun.

24 years after releasing this debut, Bey and Kweli are now internationally recognized icons of rap, activism, and entertainment. Bey pursued film and television projects and released four solo albums before threatening retirement in 2016, while Kweli attempted to find his footing between the underground and mainstream, eventually founding his own label. Both men have faced their share of controversy—child support lawsuits for Bey and harassment charges, sexual and otherwise, for Kweli. But through it all, the legacy of Black Star has persisted and, thanks to their long-awaited sophomore album No Fear of Time, lives on for a new generation.

On paper, Black Star’s return is fortuitous. The world is in a state of disrepair: racism still runs rampant and the Republican party is attempting to dismantle decades worth of civil rights legislation. Theoretically, the people need Black Star now more than ever. Bey and Kweli work best when they spin righteous indignation into catharsis and beauty. The ire in Kweli’s voice when he eviscerates Confederates and Nazis on “So be it” and the smirk in Bey’s voice when he calls out Satan on “Yonders” recall the dizzying heights of their debut. It would be unfair to expect the nearly 50-year-old rappers to come with the same energy they had in their 20s, but in its best moments, No Fear flips this assumption inside out, facilitating a thoughtfulness that ripples and flows with the steady rhythm of high tide in the moonlight.

But while there are bursts of inspired music across the album, the duo’s old-school sensibilities cut the other way as well. Much has been made of their decision to forego releasing No Fear on traditional streaming platforms, but lines like Kweli’s “The OGs is in jail, millennials is for sale” ring insincere considering that the album lives exclusively on the podcast network that also happens to host the group’s Midnight Miracle show with Dave Chappelle. For every clear thought, there are several that meander and flop just for their own sake; like the calendar-based rhyme scheme that starts Kweli’s verse on “So be it” and Bey’s verse on “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” which is esoteric to the point of being nonsensical.

The chemistry that made them both stars doesn’t always translate on group songs, either. Bey’s voice used to be a lower but still spirited counterpart to Kweli’s mid-range tenor, but Bey often sounds bored and unfussed here. On “Sweetheart. Sweethard. Sweetodd.,” Bey’s flow drags and his words slur together like he’s falling asleep in front of the mic. “Freequency,” a collaboration with Black Thought, should be an earth-shattering moment for rap heads, but the measured menace of Thought’s bars (“I don’t relate to fools/They focus on the vision, they all going to Hell and swear you going with them”) barrels through Bey and Kweli’s formless ideas with the barest possible effort. It’s a shame considering that other groups like A Tribe Called Quest and Little Brother have used their recent reunion albums to both address the times and tighten their group dynamic. No Fear establishes a general disconnect between its two emcees, who still rap competently but seem to be on different wavelengths.

Madlib provided all the beats for the album’s nine songs, but even the Loop Digga’s contributions are a mixed bag. The energetic shuffle of “So be it,” ornate loop of “Sweetheart. Sweethard. Sweetodd.,” and the jazzy jam session vibe of “Supreme alchemy” tease out some of Bey and Kweli’s best performances across the album. But several beats lack the texture and warmth we’ve come to associate with Madlib—both “o.G.” and “Yonders” feel limp and lifeless. The ghostly wails and harsh drums of “My favorite band,” a solid beat in its own right, have already been used by two different artists in recent years. When Madlib goes out of his way to deliver all-original beats to rappers like Freddie Gibbs and the late MF DOOM, a group of Black Star’s stature having to settle for leftovers on their comeback record is telling.

No Fear ends with several quotes from the late musician and critic Greg Tate, who muses on rap’s innate relationship to time: “One of the things we know about emcees is, man, they just have phenomenal memories.” As Black Star, Yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli built careers off of decoding the past and raising hope for the future. However, there are few moments across No Fear that feel immediate, timely, or necessary, and their sense of urgency has dulled. For all the hype, fans deserved something better than just good enough.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Black Star - No Fear of Time Music Album Reviews Black Star - No Fear of Time Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, May 17, 2022 Rating: 5

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