For hip-hop fans, the significance of 1998 needs little explanation thanks to landmark works by Lauryn Hill, Outkast, Jay-Z, DMX, Big Pun, the Neptunes, the Cash Money and No Limit collectives, and more. But despite a geyser of creativity and a new era of gold-plated entrepreneurship, the year still had more to offer.
Mos Def (now known as Yasiin Bey) and Talib Kweli’s album as Black Star — released 20 years ago as of September 29th — was a loquacious signpost for an emerging underground that prized skills and respected independent distribution channels. Updating 1988’s Golden Era for an Internet-savvy, Puffy-saturated 1998, Black Star had Afrocentric subject matter that recalled Boogie Down Productions, highly technical lyricism that recalled Big Daddy Kane and a sweatshirt-and-cap look that was like a boho version of Run-D.M.C.’s stripped-down casual. In short: This was hip-hop as a lot of people had venerated it.
In this footage from around 1998 or 1999, taken from BET’s proto–106 & Park hip-hop show Planet Groove, Mos Def and Talib Kweli (with Hi-Tek, naturally, on the decks) showcase their abilities as master craftsmen for a high-octane medley of “Definition,” “Astronomy (8th Light)” and “Respiration” — all tracks from their lone LP, Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star. Check out the classic back-and-forth routines, the multiple flows and the ability to pump up the crowd mid-verse. Towards the end, fellow beacon of positivity Common shows up to provide assistance and spit a guest verse.