Today XXL released a list of 30 hip-hop songs turning 20 in 2018. Included on that list is “Defiintion” by Black Star, a group consisting of Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) and Talib Kweli. 1998 was a great year for hip-hop and I was in my formative years so I have a special attachment to most of these songs. “Definition” though, changed my life.
When it comes to music I have a wide array of tastes. I produce music, DJ, and play guitar so my personal catalog contains everything from Creedence Clearwater to Chance The Rapper. But, there are a few moments when a song completely shifted what and why I consumed music.
I first heard “Definition” flipping through the cable channels playing music videos in the late 90’s. I only caught part of Mos Def’s last verse, but when I heard it something clicked. The beat coupled with Mos forcing as many syllables as humanly possible into his lines different from everything I was listening to at the time. I had to learn everything about that song and the artists behind it.
Unfortunately there was no Spotify, no YouTube, and no internet so that meant a lot of waiting. Black Star’s single wasn’t a super smash so the video only played sparingly and LA radio didn’t much push the underground New York based rappers. To learn more about the music I had to dig through independent record stores, college radio and read every single issue of The Source, XXL, and VIBE looking for any mention of the sub-genre which would become the soundtrack to my young life. Mos’ first album Black On Both Sides remains in my top five albums of all time.
That search led me down a rabbit hole to artists like Common, The Roots, D’Angelo and Slum Village. Thirty random seconds of one song changed how I consume music for the next twenty years.
Thanks to XXL for bringing up some good memories. And If you’re a fan be on the lookout, Yasiin and Kweli might be reuniting for a new album.