Time is crazy, right? It’s the one thing we never have enough of and, sometimes, can’t wait to have in the rearview mirror. Time is on the mind of Black Star, the duo who surprised hip-hop 24 years ago with a debut album still spoken about in hushed tones today. Talib Kweli and Yasiin Bey (f.k.a. Mos Def) capitalized on that success with their own solo careers. Still, fans kept asking — sometimes incessantly — where’s the next Black Star album?
After two decades, the day finally arrived as the Brooklyn group released their sophomore album, No Fear of Time (currently only available on Luminary). While mere mortals might quake in their boots simply thinking about the prospect of releasing a new record so many years after a landmark debut and finding a way to match those lofty expectations, Kweli and Bey are unencumbered by such things. The album’s title isn’t just a way of life for the group, but a thesis for the album and their careers. As any college philosophy student will happily tell you, time is simply a construct.
Bey and Kweli show age is really just a number within that framework. Their skills in 2022 are even sharper than in 1998 — especially Kweli — and they’re more comfortable in their collective skin. No Fear of Time isn’t trying to recreate ’98 or imitate the sound that made Rawkus Records an underground hip-hop haven; this album succeeds because it shows us where Black Star is today. It just so happens that the things they rapped about all those years ago — revolution, equality, spirituality, unity, racism, and Black excellence — are even more relevant today.
Any Black Star album is a tutorial in the art of rapping. The duo merge their voices perfectly with each of Madlib’s nine beats. Bey experiments with the flow on “o.G,” doing his best to remind everyone the game is a lot better when he’s around. His sing-song flow is perfected, and his verses are akin to Negro Spirituals. Bey constantly mines ways to get closer to God while being a breathing human on this plane of existence.
On the other hand, Kweli is right in the pocket throughout the album. On Black Star’s first LP and early in his career as a solo artist, Kweli’s pocket presence was inconsistent — and that’s putting it mildly. On No Fear of Time, he’s pitch-perfect. Every word hits, every punchline is clever (“Most rappers are a joke/ It’s all set up and punchlines”), and he sounds like a man at ease in a recliner. Bey, at this point in his career, is less concerned with wit than he is making more prominent points about his views on where Black people are at this moment. Kweli balances that, speaking his own truth and uplifting his people in his own way, but still very much concerned with getting standing ovations for using poetic devices: “Measure influence by the lives affected/ Writing records, getting high for breakfast/ I crash by lunch, but I’ll survive the wreckage/ By dinner time, I was aligned ’cause I received the message/ Heeded a lesson ’cause I needed a blessing.”