Track Trek: Black Star (Yasiin Bey [Mos Def] & Talib Kweli)—“Brown Skin Lady”

By Alex Ryu, Feature Photo via OkayPlayer

Track Trek is an irregular retrospect review of forgotten tracks of various genres that deserve a second viewing, with an analysis that describes why it deserves so. Track Trek is written by Alex Ryu.

Pop culture is an ongoing, adapting, and changing phenomenon that continues to keep the world on their leisurely interests and pleasures, often for better or for worse. For every Ice Bucket challenge, there is a Nekonomination. For every Cash Mob, there are those Scary Clown Sightings. For every Dance Craze, we get another Dance Craze. We can agree that for every fad that comes in and sweeps the nation, it’s because there is purpose and reason for it to allow their existence – once again for better or for worse. It stays on the social map for a while before the next best thing comes around. Music is an industry that happens to be part of that system.

Hence to balance out the mainstream, we have other subgenres that set our gears back a bit and to broaden our interests. Multi-genre movements have enabled artists to express themselves without being limited to the formulaic system of creating music, and have since expanded their horizons with experimentation, new ideas, and a community that supports various independent movements. Eventually, all of this would prove that it doesn’t take the same ballads, chord progressions, and mass commercialization to reach successful heights. The surprising aspect of various subgenres are that for every genre you find, you will never know what you will get in return. As of today, every week I will be sharing some songs of various genres that are overlooked from my own explorations, ora virtual journey I’d like to call “Track Trek.”

For this one, I would like to introduce Mos Def and Talib Kweli as Black Star, a short-lived duo who collaborated on their debut album before setting off on their respective debut solo albums. During a time when Gangsta Rap and overblown Mainstream Rap took the radio waves, Black Star was one of the few that decided to take a Philosophical approach to their work – consisting of Modern day issues, sharing ideas and describing life in New York City in general. With an ideal concept that is as comparable to where they got their duo name (named after the Black Star Shipping Line), the album was met with critical and commercial success, reaching 53 on the Billboard 200 and voted 24th best album in 1998 by the Pazz and Jop poll.

Apart from their successful singles (“Definition” and “Respiration” ft. Common), one stand out track remains a favorite in the hip hop community – “Brown Skin Lady,” a beautifully Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson sampled homage and tribute to the Brown Skin Ladies of all cultures (African American, Indigenous, Latinas, etc) showing them honest admiration and appreciation without having to resort to cheap tactics. The song also tells the same women to be proud of their heritage, never to be heavily influenced by Western beauty standards.

Rarely do you ever find songs that showcases women in a positive, ideal, and conscious atmosphere rather than as a prop. But Black Star’s “Brown Skin Lady” simply cuts back to what they know best with a sense of truth that hasn’t been compared to since Tupac’s “Dear Mama.” Songs like these a remind us even just a touch of love is enough to let others know that we know they exist and that we care for them as much as our acquaintances. Rawkus Records


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