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If Mos Def’s “Black On Both Sides” Came Out Today, It Might Be Considered The Blackest Album of All Time

On September 30, Solange released her third album, A Seat At The Table, to remarkably favorable reviews. Social media lit up like the Empire State Building at Christmas with folks proclaiming how woke and Black the album is. Interspersed with interludes speaking to the Black experience from her mother, father, and Master P, the album also includes songs like “Don’t Touch My Hair” and “F.U.B.U.”, which is really a song about a song about Blackness that white people can’t sing at the show, though I’ve been singing, “to all my niggas in the whole wide world…” for over a week now, so message received. Point is, Solange is here, and she kicked in the door waving the .44, and not just as Beyonce’s sister, but as a creative force in her own right (some may say moreso than her more famous sister, but that’s an unnecessary convo for another day).

“Cranes In The Sky” is the easy standout track on the album and it’s not about Blackness so much as its about overcoming personal adversity. But that song? Winner, winner, chicken dinner. On the real, it IS the perfect album to release for today. Solange’s album went number one on Billboard this week, with 72k units moved (with 46k actual sales). If that doesn’t make it clap, I don’t know what will.

This feat is not a surprise to me considering that unapologetic Blackness, or at least folks belief that they are unapologetically Black at all turns – another conversation for another day – is at an all time high, the rampant attacks on Black bodies by state-authorized entities, Trump’s ascendancy despite taking aim at every possible minority group to now include White women, and the way race has begun to rightly enter into conversations about everything, plus television shows showcasing the Black experience in new ways, an album that weaves messages about Blackness throughout is apt and timely.

Even the title, A Seat At The Table, speaks directly to where we are as a community. Solange dropped a winner. Salute to her, her vision, and her execution. Knowing what to release and when is half the battle of a successful campaign, the fact that Solange is an artist that its hard not to like based purely on her independence and because of how reachable she feels also helps. If you let Facebook tell it, Solange pretty much released a new age version of Marvin Gaye’s landmark album, What’s Going On? While she didn’t, I get why it’s being received so well. Which makes me realize that had Mos Def released Black On Both Sides today, it might be considered the Blackest album ever because it takes those unapologetic Black themes and spray paints them in Black while wearing a Black Timberland’s and Luke Cage’s hoodie walking down 125th Street in Harlem.

Let’s put a few things out there upfront: BOBS is a classic record. It already IS one of the greatest hip-hop records ever released. Even the songs that aren’t awesome (“New World Water” is a dud to me, but hoteps and conspiracy theorists alike are probably still listening to it and saying “see!?!?!” at alarming rates to everybody and nobody in particular) still manage to be more woke and better than 98 percent of the music that has been released from 1993 ‘til. Between the production, the samples used from artists like Fela Kuti and Roy Ayers (amongst others), breadth of subject matter, relatability, Mos Def’s lyricism, and its Blackness, the album is damn near flawless.

In May of 2015, I wrote this:

Easily one of my favorite albums of all time, BOBS opened up Black as fuck, stayed Black as fuck, got a tan, drank the sweet juice that was in the Black berries, then threw in rock ‘n roll JUST to make the point that it’s Blackness Versus Everybody.

(I could probably sell a Blackness Versus Everybody shirt today.)

BOBS took all the best qualities of every album in that previous post and put them into one album, and made it accessible. Mos Def is an artist’s artist. While a lot of his later albums haven’t connected, something I blame largely on his self-indulgence and the tension between giving people what they want and expecting your fans to grow with you, Mos has always been willing to take a chance on expanding the perception of Black music. “Rock n Roll” speaks directly to that on BOBS.

The album is full of songs about Blackness and the community and our standing in the world. And not just within the white supremacy framework, but internally. BOBS examines hip-hop as a genre and business, Blackness and its influence on the world, love, and overall, where we’ve come from to where we are (or were at that point). Not much has changed socially since 1999 (though technology seems to have increased a hundred thousand trillion fold) so all of the themes are still both relevant and necessary. Even a song that was built for radio, “Ms. Fat Booty” speaks about Black love, the chase of relationships, and ultimately how these things sometimes don’t work for various reasons, and it wasn’t the man in that case. It’s easy to see why Mos Def was so high on everybody’s list as a rapper, emcee, and artist.

He didn’t need to beat you over the head with Blackness for it to shine through on each and every song. You don’t have to say “I’m Black, y’all, I’m Black, y’all…” in order to know that Mos Def loves and cares about the Black community and is making an album for us, by us. The title, Black On Both Sides, sets up the pins and the songs bowl them over for what should be at least a 270 game.

In 2016, being Black has taken on new meaning. With movements alive and well and Blackness being on display in every conceivable way, from folks actively rocking dashikis again to “Black Excellence” t-shirts being seen all over, to young Black entrepreneurs, thinkers, scientists, creators, and writers creating spaces for us to exist without the need and validation of the “White man”, being Black is both filled with daily struggles and concerns while also feeling like we’re a community who wake up and say “I’m Black and I’m proud” like its 1968 all over again. And it all blends perfectly, let the liquor tell it.

It’s in that space that Solange’s album was received as such a testament to Blackness, not only for having Black themes but also for saying it plainly and addressing an aspect of the Black experience and eloquently expressing sentiments shared universally amongst us. Mos Def’s album is all of those things but double downs even further by directly addressing the theft of Black culture by some of the most famous white men like Elvis Presley and Limp Bizkit, people lauded who wouldn’t exist without Black culture. Songs like “Umi Says”, “Brooklyn” and “Know That” speak on who we are, where we are, and our spiritual rooting. It’s the type of Blackness on display that so much of the educated Black community revels in nowadays. It is all Black beauty. It’s similar to how beautiful that Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly is, though I’d argue that it’s, again, a more accessible album and takes it a step further. It’s a worthwhile debate though.

Solange released an R&B version for 2016 that speaks to so many folks for its unapologetic Blackness. Mos Def punches you in the face with its intentionality and an explicit focus on “my people, my people, my people people pe-people…”

Because of where we are now, Black On Both Sides is the album that speaks directly to our community. Even 17 years alter, it’s as grandiose a work of art as it was then. And if it dropped today, I’m fairly certain we’d be claiming it’s the Blackest album ever because of the times in which it was released.

Also, “Got” might be the realest hip-hop song ever released.

(1999) Mos Def for President.

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is pretty fly (and gorgeous) for a light guy. He used to ship his frito to Tito in the District, but shipping prices increased so he moved there to save money. He refuses to eat cocaine chicken. When he's not saving humanity with his words or making music with his mouth, you can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking her fine liquors. Most importantly, he believes the children are our future. You can hit him on his hitter at panamadjackson@gmail.com.

  • miss t-lee

    I loved this album since the day it dropped, and I still love it.
    Best album he put out.

  • I love Mos but I really would’ve like a breakdown of the Solange album, I think it got that reception simply because it came at the perfect time with everything that’s going on. Its soothing for the soul, I don’t know how to explain it and I cant remember the last time I wasn’t annoyed with skits on an album.

    • panamajackson

      You assume a Solange break down isn’t coming. It is. But it might not read the way you want it to. I don’t love it like everybody else does.

      • Junegirl627

        Thank God!!!! I thought I was the only one. I like Solange’s music. But I don’t get it. It’s good but it didn’t give me chills or all the feels. It’s good. I’m not gonna blast from my speakers or put people on to it. I’m just gonna bop my head when I hear someone playing one of the songs off the album.

        • panamajackson

          That’s part of what’s taken me so long to write about it. Everybody on FB seems to love it. The reviews in publications are great. It’s the number one album. And I’m over here like, but…i dont like it.

          • QueenAT

            That’s okay. It’s not for you. Just like the people who don’t love or understand Leomonade. It just resignate because it ain’t for you. :-)

            • miss t-lee

              This is how I feel about it. If it’s not for you, it just isn’t.
              I wasn’t feeling Lemonade, or Blond or most of the other stuff everyone likes, and that’s also ok.

          • Junegirl627

            Exactly!!! It’s not a bad album. The music is aiight. The lyrics are aiight. If i’m in the car or at someones house and a song from the album comes on i’m cool. But if you decide to play that whole album from beginning to end, i’m saying something.

            In other words it’s “woke white noise” and the woke part is debatable…

      • Michelle

        Someone recently told me that I wasn’t “imbibing Blackness” because I didn’t enjoy (and buy) the album. I told them, “Then I guess I’m white, then! I’m white like the freshly-driven snow…. Like mayonnaise. Like the mounds of cocaina that was on Scarface’s desk…Like the whiteness that makes up the swoop in the Nike symbol…i’m so white, I’m gonna kiss some random lady’s dog on the mouth…”

        • cedriclathan

          “…and grab it by the balls, they let you do it.”

        • cakes_and_pies

          Da’Hayle?
          I love the album, but there is no one way to be Black. I hate that mentality.

      • Leggy

        I don’t even like it at all

      • Sweet Potato Kai ?

        Yea…no. I don’t hate it, but I’m not drooling over it either. I might listen to it while I scrub my toilet.

      • I don’t mind a different outlook on it, it’s why I frequent the site.

      • capturing the zeitgeist and all that jazz

  • Val

    It’s kind of sad that albums addressing Blackness with regard to our oppression/ problems that affect us all become timeless. I mean What’s Going On could have been released today. Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come could have been released today. And many others.

    It will be a beautiful thing when we can listen to those kind of songs/ albums and remember how bad things used to be as opposed listening while thinking things haven’t really changed much.

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  • Digital_Underground

    “I’m blacker than midnight on Broadway and Myrtle”

    This is the first thing I thought of when reading the title of this post.

    • Brooklyn_Bruin

      I wonder if that still holds true

      • Digital_Underground

        Not a New Yorker so I wouldn’t now.

        • Julie Mango TheGladiator Staff

          It’s not as Black or Brown due to gentrification but earlier this year that insection had multiple overdoses on K2. Really reminiscent of the Cracked Out late 80’s

    • Blueberry01

      Shoutout to Bed-Stuy and Bushwick.

  • Ari

    Thanks for this. “You start keeping pace, they start changing up the tempo” was my first little aha/that-was-deep lyrical moment in my newly adult life.

  • Digital_Underground

    I do wonder if 1999 Mos Def would get the same listen today he got back then. There seems to be less tolerance of the Hotep types in many Black circles today. And Mos Def was pretty Hotep back then. Pro Blackness seems to require certain packaging these days in order to be acceptable these days.

    • He would be Solange.

      • Digital_Underground

        I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

    • Brooklyn_Bruin

      Depends on the size of the circle.

    • cakes_and_pies

      I always saw him as more Black Hippy versus Hotep.

      • Epsilonicus

        Same here

    • What is Solange and Kendrick considered in this day in age? Are they not Hotep? What is the twitter label for them?

      • Val

        Isn’t Solange a woke carefree Black chick?

        • cakes_and_pies

          She’s the poster child of BlackGirlMagic
          If coconut oil had chex with AfroPunk, she’d be the celebrity love child

          • I’m struggling living in the times of “The Twitter”

            • cakes_and_pies

              Me too. I still don’t understand how to read Twitter. I look at popular hashtags and leave.

              • That’s me. I don’t know how to read it. I mostly look at the hashtags too!!

        • So “woke” is a good “hotep”?

          • Val

            Lol I would say that being woke is less aggressive than being Hotep. Also, woke is usually minus the conspiracy theories and more mainstream.

        • Woke
          Hotep
          Hippie
          That dresses really, really well

      • Kendrick is from the hood and still does some gangsta rap tangent stuff so he has like 5 more years for authenticity built in.

        • So he’s not “hotep” or “woke” or “blackboymagic” or “carefreeblackboy” What is he?

    • MsSula

      The real woke people (like Mos) are not considered (the new meaning of) Hotep.

      Hoteps are basically the hypocrites, conspiration theoricists, often defenders of mysogynoir, etc…etc…

  • Dang on it. This cheered me the heck up!

    I guess that means my Devin might be the Blackest publicist of All time.
    I LOVE YOU SIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/fbb6c69fedf426ac7daf770c2756bf9444023859878e290423955165f23ea6d8.jpg

  • cyanic

    The two videos from A Seat at the Table do more to drive home the message of the music than the album does as a pure listening experience.

    • panamajackson

      I totally agree. And, those two videos are basically the same video.

      • cyanic

        The Holy Spirit which looms throughout Don’t Touch My Hair makes it the unanimous winner.

      • Janelle Doe

        and did she have the same producer as lemonade? there were def stylistic similarities to some Bey videos. Maybe Solange and her people really did inspire that other one

        • Annalise Keating

          I heard Raphael Saadiq produced most of solanges album. Lemonade had a host other producers.

          • Janelle Doe

            ok, i meant the videos. But i didnt know RS had a hand in the music, thanks.

            • Annalise Keating

              There were a lot of different directors on the lemonade video.
              “Cranes in the sky” and “don’t touch my hair” were directed by solange and her husband

              • Janelle Doe

                thanks.

                i am curious about PJ’s next post regarding the album *twiddles thumbs and paces while waiting.

  • It has been on my mind ALL day…trying to figure out exactly why I don’t want to listen to the Solange album. Why I cringe every time I see the alum cover. And why I don’t particularly care for her. There’s a host of reasons. But Thanks PJ for summing up a lot of the thoughts in my head.

    • panamajackson

      We’re gonna be talking about her album, and just her album coming up here shortly.

      • Okay. I won’t read that one. lol

        • Janelle Doe

          lol. glad he warned you huh:-)

          Andie , the interludes were what go me. Act or otherwise aside it was nice to hear that on an R&b ish neo soul or whatever genre she is album

    • Other_guy13

      What she do…fill mei n

      • She didn’t do anything to me.

        • Other_guy13

          So why nobody dig her? I thought she is pretty dope.

          • I just watched the “don’t touch my hair video”. Did you like it? I liked her Orange Boots.

            The song didn’t move me. I can’t wait for the PJ’s article now. Does she sing better than Mary??? I rather hear Mary sing to Hillary personally.

            • Annalise Keating

              Listen to “cranes in the sky”. With an open mind ?.

              • It looks nice. But contrived. And she can’t sing.

                • Annalise Keating

                  “I tried to drink it away
                  I tried to put one in the air
                  I tried to dance it away
                  I tried to change it with my hair

                  I ran my credit card bill up
                  Thought a new dress would make it better
                  I tried to work it away
                  But that just made me even sadder

                  I tried to keep myself busy
                  I ran around in circles
                  Think I made myself dizzy
                  I slept it away, I sexed it away
                  I read it away

                  Away, away, away, away, away, away
                  Away, away, away, away, away

                  Well it’s like cranes in the sky
                  Sometimes I don’t wanna feel those metal clouds
                  Yeah it’s like cranes in the sky
                  Sometimes I don’t wanna feel those metal clouds”

                  Agreed that she is not the best singer. But lyrically I can identify with the song. I lived in this space for a very long time. So it feels genuine to me. And it’s not as heavy handed as some of the other songs.

                  • I hear you.
                    I really like the production. It reminds me of a Tweet song I used love. I can see why ya dig it!

                    • This round of music by her is the only CD I liked, lol.
                      This one, and the cut where she’s singing while the Congo dandies are strutting their gear.

                    • Sweet Potato Kai ?

                      Very much like Tweet. Like Tweet and Badu had a ugly baby.

                    • Annalise Keating

                      She does acknowledge that the album is heavily influenced by Tweet.

                    • Sweet Potato Kai ?

                      Do your remember where she said that at?

                    • Annalise Keating

                      Twitter
                      “solange knowles
                      solange knowles? @solangeknowles
                      Yes! @MS_HUMMINGBIRD is GOLD. ASATT is heavily influenced by “A Southern Hummingbird” & her untouchable vocals. So grateful she was apart. “

                    • LMAO. Not an ugly baby.

                    • Sweet Potato Kai ?

                      You’re right, an unattractive, fat baby. ??.My bad.

                    • Janelle Doe

                      hahah u guys r funny. i heard Tweet in that song too. Glad I am not the only one.

                    • Dee

                      Funny enough, tweet did a lot of the backing vocal on this album for Solange

                    • Epsilonicus

                      I bang with Tweet’s “Southern Hummingbird” album

                  • Sweet Potato Kai ?

                    Lyrically this sounds like a rip of Erykah Badu’s “I want you”. Just not as good.

                    • Annalise Keating

                      I respect your opinion but to me, they are 2 very very different songs to me. “I want you” seems to be about her obsession with a lover. “Cranes in the sky” seems to be more about depression. She doesn’t specify any particular cause for it.
                      One of the things I liked about the song and the album was that for a change, it was nice and refreshing to hear a black woman artist whose world (musically) does not revolve around the acceptance of men/lover.

                    • Sweet Potato Kai ?

                      Two different topics, maybe, but still the first thing I thought of was how is phrased/ written very similarly to I Want You. I’m sure Badu is flattered.

                      “You can pray to early May, fast for 30 days
                      Still it won’t let go, oh
                      Got a good book and got all in it, tried a little yoga for a minute
                      But it won’t let go, oh
                      Tried to turn the sauna up to hotter, drunk a whole jar of holy water
                      But it won’t let go…”

                      And I am sorry you had to live through that.

                    • Annalise Keating

                      “I I I I I I I
                      Want you you you you you you you
                      Oh, I I I I I I I
                      Want you you you you you you you

                      So, what we gon’ do
                      What we gon’ do
                      What we gon’ do
                      What we gon’ do

                      I I I I I I I
                      Want you you you you you you you
                      Oh, I I I I I I I
                      Want you you you you you you you

                      In the worse kinda way way way way way way way
                      I want you you you you, baby
                      So what we gon’ do do do, baby
                      What we gon’ do do do, baby

                      Love is on the way, all I got to say is
                      It won’t let go
                      You can pray to early May, fast for 30 days
                      Still it won’t let go, oh

                      Got a good book and got all in it, tried a little yoga for a minute
                      But it won’t let go, oh
                      Tried to turn the sauna up to hotter, drunk a whole jar of holy water
                      But it won’t let go, oh”

                      I hear you. I copied the first half of badu’s song (like I had copied the first half of solanges song before this)..
                      While there is that small portion that may bear a small resemblance, the structure and most of the body of the songs seem mostly very different to me.

                      Also considering the millions of songs in existence, I can’t imagine that frequently these small similarities won’t crop up. There are only a finite number of song structures that exists and I am betting we have already used up most of this.

                      Solange wrote “Cranes in the sky”. 5 other writers, none of which were Erykah badu, wrote “I want you”. So if anyone is flattered i would hope it would be the songwriters not badu.

                    • Sweet Potato Kai ?

                      Probably thousands, but I ain’t listened to thousands of those songs. Badu popped into my brain. But at the end if the day, the CD overall is sonically wack. Dassit. And I wanna fuel the fire and see the world burn ….Lemonade is better.

                    • Annalise Keating

                      ok cool. One mans meat is another mans poison. This is one of the great things about life- people’s differences. I wasn’t reviewing the album though. Just discussing the song “cranes in the sky.”

              • Val

                I was just about to say that. That’s the song I really like.

              • QueenAT

                And FUBU or Mad

            • Other_guy13

              I did lol.y’all gone leave Dianna Ross other daughter alone and let her live lol

            • Sweet Potato Kai ?

              Just the orange boots huh? So shady ?

    • Annalise Keating

      The blipster (Black Hipster) thing has been solanges mo for many years. Before many other celebrities (whose names I won’t mention) jumped on the “I am woke and black” bandwagon, Solange was occupying that space not just on social media but even during interviews.

      • Leggy

        In my opinion, solange became black and woke because what else could she be? She wanted to be the very opposite of everything her sister is to be noticed. And that’s why I find her entire “thing” contrived and an act.

        • Annalise Keating

          I think we are discussing two very separate things.

          I don’t think not wanting to live under your sisters shadow is a terrible thing. I Many folks do this (not just wanting a different identity than their siblings but also their parents). To me this is common and quite natural.

          I don’t think that has anything to do with her being “black and woke.” I don’t know her personally but she has been actively denouncing white supremacy and patriarchy for a minute on social media and in interviews. Before it was “cool” and “profitable” to do this. For a long time she was a pariah in the music industry because of this. She has publicly discussed personal experiences and struggles with these issues for a while. So unlike some other folks this is not just coming out of nowhere.

          There are many different identities and experiences within the black community outside of Either being “hood” or being “woke.” She could have picked anything. She chose to be a “woke blipster” and stuck with that identity long before the masses embraced it. This does not strike me as a gimmick. But it’s just my opinion.

          • Leggy

            Oh well. I find it a gimmick, you don’t. We both really don’t know since we don’t know her personally. I’ve just literally always found her gimmicky because I have friends who have met her and did not have nice things to say at all.

            • Annalise Keating

              I hear you. I don’t know her and have never met her so my theory could be total bs.

              Do you think your feelings about her are heavily influenced by your friends personal experiences with her? Cos it possible to be “woke” and rude to fans. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

      • miss t-lee

        Yup…she was also doing “carefree Black girl” before it had the aforementioned title.

  • Brooklyn_Bruin

    Very interesting argument.

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