Review: Black Star at the House of Blues
Black Star (rappers Talib Kweli and Mos Def). (HANDOUT / September 19, 2011)
Black Star — rappers Mos Def and Talib Kweli — became known as the vanguard of introspective, thoughtful hip-hop with the release of its 1998 debut record, "Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star." Since then, the duo has had occasionally fruitful solo careers, but the crowd at the House of Blues Friday was most excited to hear Black Star's classic material. For the second of two shows (the first was at 9 p.m., the second after midnight) Mos Def and Kweli didn't hit the stage until 1:45 a.m., but the packed crowd — dominated by a diverse mix of fans in their late 20s and early 30s — was a loyal and energetic one.
The group's minimal, stripped-down setup featured a single DJ. Mos Def, clad in a button-down dress shirt tucked into a pair of jeans, appeared ready for casual Friday at the office — and Kweli wore similarly grown-up garb. It was appropriate for the crowd, many of whom were likely in their teens when the first Black Star album was released more than a decade ago. It was a time when the hip-hop and pop charts were more closely linked, and a group that went against the grain felt so necessary. Fred Hampton, Jr.'s appearance on stage, leading a "moment of noise" in protest of the execution of Troy Davis, served as a reminder of the group's role in promoting politically conscious hip-hop.
The duo did trip over its lyrics here and there; much of Black Star's catalog, particularly the anti-violence anthem "Definition," features dense, rapid, double-time flows that make for easy error. But for the most part Kweli and Mos Def were in top form, rattling off lyrics with enthusiasm. The only real evidence that it was the group's second performance of the night was Mos Def's slightly ragged singing voice, which still filled the concert hall with a honeyed tone. After the encore — Kweli performed his solo hit "Get By," and Mos Def performed "Umi Says." Mos Def closed the show by dancing around the stage to music by jazz-rockers The Tony Williams Lifetime, holding the crowd's attention until the set's around-3 a.m. conclusion.