Review: Black Star, ‘No Fear of Time’

After twenty-four years, Yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli finally released their follow-up LP, solidifying two-and-a-half decades of longevity and brotherhood.

BK emcees, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) and Talib Kweli are well known for their trailblazing contributions to the culture, ensuring hip-hop remained planted in its roots. Following their electric ’98 debut, Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, Yasiin and Talib wasted no time getting their solo careers off the ground, but chances of another Black Star album got narrower by the year. The two maintained a close relationship but shot down any hopes of a sophomore album. Finally, fans would be blessed to see a new Black Star album after more than twenty years, but at an unusual cost.

The reunion of the legendary hip-hop duo has left many wondering if their latest record was worth a 24-year wait wrapped up in an exclusive listening experience.

Photography: Mathieu Bitton

Black Star’s latest record, titled No Fear of Time, refers to the relaxed atmosphere that the two created during the recording process. As Talib Kweli reflected on his self-hosted People’s Party with Talib Kweli podcast, he revealed that the two [Mos and Kweli] were more focused on strengthening their bond as friends rather than solely honing in on another project. In fact, they just let the process happen organically, sporadically recording tracks in hotels across the nation and backstage at Dave Chappelle shows whenever they felt the urge to record.

The structure of the record greatly reflects the musical exchange between the two lyrical heavyweights. The competitive flame flares up occasional, but Yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli keep it classy and make sure the record stays on the right path, content wise. Similar to their debut, the main focus is to keep the culture preserved and exaggerate the characteristics that made both artists fall in love with the genre. From b-boys and graffiti to streaming and gimmicks, Black Star picks apart different scenes in the culture and determine whats real and whats fabricated.

No Fear of Time shows Yasiin and Talib consistently rapping at a high caliber, just as if they had continued from the final session for their debut. The pair’s performance on this record is a perfect example of steel sharpening steel; Yasiin and Talib bounce back and forth with poignant quotes and electrifying rhymes, even reaching braggadocio status at times; but the underlying factor is the pair can still rap circles around most in their class while simultaneously delivering a heavy message to the masses.

The secret ingredient that ties the record together and provides an exceptional flavor comes in the form of ear candy known as Madlib beats. From the jump, Yasiin made it clear that the only producer who struck his fancy for a project of this magnitude would be Madlib. The mysterious producer adds a hypnotic dose of chopped samples on loop, lacing each track with a mesmerizing sound that adds character to the duo’s rhymes. Madlib’s signature trippy sound makes up the last piece of the puzzle for a Black Star record that is capable of matching their classic debut.

Often times, we see duos [and groups] struggle to rekindle their fire due to the main priority being placed upon getting the band back together for immediate profit; but despite going twenty-four years without a group project, Yasiin and Talib’s chemistry on this record is phenomenal and sets the standard for what we should expect from modern-day reunion records. With a newly strengthened bond and years of memories, the duo was able to craft a record that shined differently when compared to their debut but still managed to provide the same feeling of those early Black Star days; a balance thats difficult to strike. Yasiin and Talib made sure their artistic integrity would remain pure and uncompromising, which is the main appeal of No Fear of Time.

Rhymes from Yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli paired with Madlib’s hypnotizing sound makes a perfect recipe for a classic LP; however, its one large factor that affects this album’s presence in everyday wave lengths. According to the same episode of People’s Party with Talib Kweli that shared the album’s creative process, Talib also revealed that the album was exclusive to the Luminary as the duo was reluctant to embrace the underwhelming benefits of large DSPs.

On paper, this is a great tactic to ensure complete compensation for your art while filtering out the roots in the garden; but this exclusivity can also kill an album’s runtime in the public light. This isn’t a factor that directly affects the quality of the music [either way, the joint is slammin’], but the strategy plays a large role in the longevity a record is able to receive. This approach could either lead the project to be a revolutionary change in the streaming game or achieve cult-classic status in the next few years; Given the selfish nature of the world, the latter is unfortunately the outcome of these types of events.

No Fear of Time is the perfect soundtrack for these troublesome times, fulfilling twenty-four years of absence; but its exclusive nature deprives it access from the overall state of the culture, letting its release purposely fly over many heads.

8.5 / 10

Best tracks: “o.G”, “Freequency”, “Yonders”, “No Fear of Time”, “Supreme alchemy”