Mos Def – Black on Both Sides: #581 of best 1,000 albums ever!

Mos Def - Black on Both Side

So why is Mos Def’s Black on Both Sides on this best 1,000 albums ever thing?

Black on Both Sides was released in 1999, and I have vague memories of… acquiring songs from the album via Napster or one of the early peer-to-peer music platforms way back in the day.

Around a decade ago, though, I began taking the album far more seriously. And by seriously, I became flat out obsessed with “Ms. Fat Booty,” and it’s become one of all time favorite hip hop songs ever since.

I’m listening to it as I write these words, and I’m still blown away by how good it is: how it works as pure musical experience, as a display of Mos Def’s hip hop mastery, as a college course on How to Sample Better Than Everyone (namely, by using Aretha Franklin’s “One Step Ahead”), and perhaps most of all as a narrative masterpiece.

In a tight sub-four minutes, we get a full-on story of young love out on the scene. I’m delighted by how Mos Def can adeptly can shift from an ultra-casual mode, as though he’s telling a great story to his friends, before zooming into an incredibly smooth and high-speed hip-hop flow at will.  

And then I can never get over how he’ll super off-handedly announce that a new part of the story has begun by dropping in a “scene two” or “scene three” to orient the listener in the story. I’ve simply never heard anything like it.

Oh yeah, and like all great storytellers, Mos Def never strays away from understanding that the most important thing is to be entertaining. And being genuinely funny never hurts as well.

“Brooklyn” deploys a loungey jazz riff in a way that 1) makes you wish that jazz would be leveraged MUCH more in hip hop 2) could never be outdone by the vast majority of artists. Which is to say, it’s really good.

“Know That,” credited to Mos Def and Talib Kweli, has a more aggressive beat but still comes across really smoothly and is effective for it.

Pop culture stuff that has something to do with Mos Def’s Black on Both Sides

Mos Def, the stage name for Yasmiin Bey, has had a pretty fascinating career so far. Black Star, his collaboration with Talib Kweli, has produced some great music. Here’s “Respiration,” off of Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star.

Mos Def also had quite a run as an actor during the 2000s, with standout roles in movies such as The Italian Job, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Woodsman, and six episodes of Chappelle’s Show.

I particularly associate Mos Def the actor with a movie called Be Kind, Rewind, in which he co-stars with Jack Black (another dynamic actor with his own outstanding musical career as one half of the comedy folk-metal duo known as Tenacious D).

The premise of Be Kind, Rewind is so great and so exciting that I still get fired up thinking about it to this day: two knucklehead guys working at a video store (Mos Def and Black), due to Plot Reasons, are forced to “re-create” ultra low budget versions of film classics in super short order.

The results though are just… fine. The movie’s okay, nothing more, and leans way more into sentimentality versus the comedy gold it should have pursued, unfortunately.

Some stats & info about Mos Def – Black on Both Sides

  • What kind of musical stylings does this album represent? Rap, East Coast Rap, Hip Hop, Underground Hip Hop, Alternative Hip Hop
  • Rolling Stone’s greatest 500 albums ranking – not ranked!
  • All Music’s rating5 out of 5 stars
  • When was Black on Both Sides released? 1999
  • My ranking, the one you’re reading right now – #581 out of 1,000

Mos Def’s Black on Both Sides on Spotify

A lyrical snippet from Mos Def’s Black on Both Sides that’s evocative of the album in some way, maybe

In she came with the same type game, the type of girl giving out the fake cell phone and name.

What does the “best 1,000 albums ever” mean and why are you doing this?

Yeah, I know it’s audacious, a little crazy (okay, maybe a lot cray cray), bordering on criminal nerdery.

But here’s what it’s NOT: a definitive list of the Greatest Albums of All-Time. This is 100% my own personal super biased, incredibly subjective review of what my top 1,000 albums are, ranked in painstaking order over the course of doing research for nearly a year, Rob from High Fidelity style. Find out more about why I embarked on a best 1,000 albums ever project.