On the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN spoke with Black Star’s Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) and Talib Kweli about their careers, recently released album, and more. Legendary comedian and actor Dave Chappelle, who appears on the duo’s “Midnight Miracle” podcast, also makes a guest cameo.
Originating in Brooklyn, New York, Talib Kweli and Yasiin Bey were among two of the most prominent musicians in hip hop to emerge in the late 90s. When they formed their collective Black Star alongside DJ Hi-Tek, it came as no surprise to fans of the MCs who paved a way for the underground music scene at that time. Their name was inspired by late Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey’s steamship company, which helped repatriate Blacks to Africa during the early 1920s. Moreover, the duo’s debut album, Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, was released in 1993. It boasted features from Common, Weldon Irvine, Apani B Fly, and Vinia Mojica, among others, whilst songs like “Respiration” and “Thieves in the Night” rose as two of the project’s most notable records.
Black Star was also a part of the collective Native Tongues, which included A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Common, the Jungle Brothers, and Da Bush Babees. Meanwhile, both musicians have continued to build a formidable discography beyond Black Star. Bey released his fifth studio album and first project in nearly 10 years, Negus, back in 2019. He’s also collaborated with a number of musicians — like KIDS SEE GHOST and Tyler, the Creator — over the past several years. Elsewhere, Kweli joined forces with fellow record producer and MC, Diamond D, for their joint project Gotham, which the two spoke with “Drink Champs” about last year.
Roughly 24 years since the duo made their debut, Black Star dropped their sophomore studio album, No Fear of Time, earlier this month. Entirely produced by Madlib, the project was released exclusively to their pay-to-hear podcast platform, Luminary. The release is comprised of nine tracks with features from the likes of Black Thought and Yummy Bingham, as well as the pre-release single “o.G.,” which serves as the only cut distributed outside of their platform.
To help give fans a recap, REVOLT compiled a list of nine facts we learned from the Yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli “Drink Champs” episode. Check them out below and watch the full episode here.
1. On Yasiin Bey living in South Africa
The majority of 2016 saw Yasiin Bey free on bail in South Africa after he was arrested in the country on charges of trying to leave using a fake passport and travel document. After residing there since 2013, the rapper was prevented from leaving years later when he was detained in January 2016. As Bey shares, he and his family were suspected by authorities of overstaying their visas. He provides a short explanation for this in the interview.
“I was living in South Africa and during my stay there, I obtained a secondary travel document,” he says. “There was some disagreement with myself and the South African government as it relates to qualified travel documents. It was an experience. I often invite people to look up the world passport for themselves and take it from there because I’m not here to make up anybody’s mind about anything.”
2. On Black Star releasing No Fear of Time exclusively on Luminary
A month before the release of their Madlib-produced album No Fear of Time, Yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli formally announced the project to their fans. The album was released exclusively on the Luminary platform, requiring fans to pay for a membership to the service in order to listen to it — a rather unusual practice in today’s music streaming landscape. Kweli shares the approach behind making it available on only one platform, stating that he knew true fans would tune in.
“We have made a choice for a lot of valid reasons to be in control of where and how we distribute our art,” Kweli states. “At this point in our careers and because of the music business, speaking for myself, we have to as men and as artists focus on not trying to cast a wide net and get everybody. Even me as a fan of Black Star, I want to hear it wherever I feel [like] hearing it.”
3. On maintaining ownership and not chasing charting numbers
Pivoting on the conversation of their album not being available on streaming services, Black Star shares that they aren’t chasing charting numbers. Given that they own the masters to their own songs, neither Bey or Kweli seem concerned with creating radio-friendly tracks, but rather records for their core audience. Speaking on owning their music, Bey shares, “This is just the beginning. It’s not like something that just came out this week and it’s going to go away. It’s historically preserved.” Kweli adds, “You have to have the confidence of knowing that you’re in a position to do that.”
4. On Dave Chappelle’s Yellow Springs clubhouse, The Shack
Dave Chappelle, well-known for his career in comedy, built a pop-up shop in the town of Yellow Springs. The space, once a garage but now a clubhouse, was also used by Black Star for recording their most recent album. Chappelle discusses the clubhouse’s origin story, how he settled on the current site, and his overall impressions of the business’ operation.
“The Shack is an old car garage from the 1950s. I didn’t change the outside — but the inside, we tricked it out. I would drive by it, and I told my wife one day I was going to buy it. She was like, ‘What you gonna do with that s**t?’ I told her, ‘Don’t worry bout it.’ What I did was I made this clubhouse,” Chappelle shares regarding the spot. He goes on to talk about having a great time with DMX at the location as well as inviting Common and Chance The Rapper over.
5. On Dave Chappelle struggling to get artists on “Chappelle’s Show”
Dave Chappelle’s “Chappelle’s Show” premiered in 2003, and ran for a total of three seasons and 28 episodes until it was discontinued in 2006. Chappelle said he faced pushback while attempting to book rap musicians for musical portions on the series, despite receiving praise from N.O.R.E. for his unwavering dedication to hip hop culture. On the other hand, the comic did have a number of A-listers like Fat Joe, Questlove, Lil Jon, Common, and others on his eponymous show.
“I couldn’t get people to come on. I would reach out to artists,” Chappelle explains before being briefly cut off by N.O.R.E., who asks which musicians turned down the offer. Though the comedian refuses to name-drop, he states, “N**gas that you know and love and I know and love said, ‘No.’ But in their defense, no one ever heard of the show or anything.”
6. On Kanye West’s Talib Kweli comments on “Drink Champs”
Talib Kweli takes a minute to reflect on Kanye West’s 2021 “Drink Champs” interview, where the latter seemingly took a jab at him wearing baseball hats back in the day. When the podcast episode came out, Kweli responded to it via Instagram. During his “Drink Champs” interview this weekend, he delves into his initial reaction to Ye’s comments: “It reminded me of what Kanye meant to the culture. The hat s**t was funny to me. It was hilarious … I laughed.”
7. On watching the jeen-yuhs documentary and predicting Ye’s success
In January, Netflix launched its Kanye West documentary jeen-yuhs, which covered almost two decades of the artist’s career. Kweli and Ye are seen doing a freestyle rap together backstage during the documentary’s first episode and in the trailer released before the show’s premiere. The mix of Kanye’s production and rapping, according to Kweli, was unparalleled at the time.
Kweli shares, “There’s moments in the documentary with me and Yasiin Bey together with Kanye and I’ll be honest with you, my life was moving so fast at the time. A lot of shows, a lot of smoking, a lot of drinking, a lot of just rap.” He continues, “I’m watching this documentary and I don’t remember those moments. Me not remembering those moments, I had to realize: Well, if I don’t remember those moments and I had to see them on film, [then] the people that wasn’t there, they definitely don’t know about that.”
Elsewhere, Bey chimes in with, “It was fairly obvious to me from the get-go. He was an amazing producer. He had all the star qualities. He was different. He challenges, in my opinion, a lot of the macho notions that [are] associated with hip hop.”
8. On Kanye and 50 Cent’s 2007 chart battle and Ye’s movie theater listening party
According to Billboard, Kanye West’s Graduation album sold 957,000 copies in its first six days, whereas 50 Cent’s self-titled project only sold 691,000 copies in the same time period. Many people were taken aback by this news because of the popularity of 50’s debut album Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, but Kweli says he saw it coming. The musician remembers that Kanye once had a listening party in a movie theater, where the Chicago native played his music over clips from some of his favorite anime.
Speaking about the 2007 listening session, Bey shares, “It was a local movie theater that was there and what Kanye did was that [when] you came into the movie theater, he had programs for all of the songs. So caramel popcorn and edited visuals from anime movies that he liked, and [he] played that in sync to the music. The moment that he did that and the moment that I left there, I was like, ‘Kanye wins.’ I don’t care what 50 Cent got in the tank, he is not beating this album at this time.”
9. On “backpack rap” coming to an end
Although Ye maintained connections with the more street-oriented Roc-A-Fella movement in the middle of the 2000s, he broadened his audience by affiliating with the “backpack rap” culture, which was synonymous with artists like Common and Talib Kweli. At the end of the interview, N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN discuss the end of that era of hip hop.
“It’s something that people came up with. I get where it came from, but it never stuck because it doesn’t have any gravity to it,” Bey says. Kweli adds, “I grew up in the Flatbush/Flatlands area. It’s a two-fare zone so when we went to the Lower East Side or to parties in the city, we’d hop in the turnstile and we had backpacks on. It was a very practical New York City thing.”
Dave Chapelle comedically gives his input on why backpack rap died: “Whoever got the most b**ches wins. Gangster n**gas had b**ches.” When asked if he remembers The Roots’ impact on the subgenre, Chappelle nods, stating, “I remember the video. I love that video and it was clever, but there was more b**ches at the Biggie show than there was at The Roots one.”