Talib Kweli Breaks Down His 25 Most Essential Songs

Black Star "Definition" (1998)

Album: Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
Producer: Hi-Tek
Label: Rawkus / Priority Records / EMI / MCA

Talib Kweli: “That might have been the very first record that we recorded for Black Star.

“Once we decided that we were gonna do the album, we started collecting beats. I was working with Hi-Tek, most of the beats came from Hi-Tek. And then J. Rawls from Columbus Ohio. Yasiin was working with Shawn J. Period, we were hanging out with Geology and 88 Keys, those were like people we were hanging out with. That’s basically the core of who produced that album.

“Yasiin was like, ‘Yo, you know what would be ill? If we took that BDP beat, ‘The P Is Still Free,’ and I did the ‘Stop the Violence’ hook over it.’ Hi-Tek said ‘That’s a great idea’ and went working on the beat immediately. Yasiin is good like that. With ‘Brown Skin Lady,’ when J. Rawls played that beat, Mos came up with that hook immediately. He’s very good at coming up with ideas for songs.

 

We were respected in the underground scene because our content was straight-up New York: lyrics, MCs. But ‘Definition’ worked for Funkmaster Flex and it worked on New York radio because it fit right in with the trend of what was going on in hip-hop radio.

 

“So we flipped ‘The P Is Still Free,’ but then Hi-Tek doesn’t like to copy. He was like, ‘This is just me flipping BDP, I need to flip it again.’ That’s where we get ‘REdefinition’ from. Hi-Tek flipped it again, and he used the same drums and same pattern, but he did a Hi-Tek version of it.

“So even though we were excited about what he did with ‘P Is Still Free,’ when we heard the second half, we were like, ‘Oh this is fucking crazy, we gotta rap on this.’ The original song, I don’t know how it’s listed on the album, but the song is like six minutes long because we rap to ‘The P Is Still Free’ beat and then it transfers to the other beat. We had to break it in half to make it a single.

“Puff Daddy then took it and had Total singing over ‘The P Is Still Free’ beat later that year too. So it wasn’t as different. That’s what’s interesting about it. What was going on at the time, particularly with Bad Boy running things, is Puff and his Hitmen team were very good at taking old school, classic hip-hop beats and putting them with new school, more R&B sounding production. Puff was the master of that.

“We were respected in the underground scene because our content was straight-up New York: lyrics, MCs. But ‘Definition’ worked for Funkmaster Flex and it worked on New York radio because it fit right in with the trend of what was going on in hip-hop radio.”

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