Resident hip hop expert Jason Tomassini joined me for this week's mega show at Sonar, and the following is his take on the event. Credit the picture to Tommie Battle.
In the 10 years since Mos Def and Talib Kweli released their seminal rap collaboration Black Star, it's become more and more shocking that the two what-turned-out-to-be-vastly-different personalities could get together to make an LP, let alone a classic. We knew all of this going into their rare stop in Baltimore, Wednesday night at Sonar.
Kweli came out and did what he does, racing through an hour set of choice cuts, mostly from Reflection Eternal (he played "Listen," off Ear Drum, probably to remind people he is still putting out rap albums). It was a savvy crowd, hanging on every word of classic hits like "Too Late," "Move Something" and "The Blast," in addition to surprising, but well-received set list inclusions like "Africa Dream." And then everyone went apeshit when he closed with "Get By." This is what Talib Kweli does.
A couple minutes after midnight Mos Def came on and did Mos Def-type things. That includes playing a drum set while rapping, wearing black suspenders and a black tee (looking pretty Amish), running through a strange medley of undefinable reggae songs, supporting Kanye West's tirade at last week's VMAs and almost totally neglecting Black on Both Sides. Titled the "The Ecstatic Tour", fans shouldn't have been shocked to hear most of the new album. But as good as that album is, "Casa Bey," "Auditorium" (even with the incredible Slick Rick verse, which Mos' DJ just played on wax as Mos watched) and "Life in Marvelous Times" aren't "Ms. Fat Booty" or "New World Water."
Then Kweli came out, and the beat to Black Star hit "RE: DEFinition" came in and everyone lost their collective minds. They followed with Kweli-assisted "History" off the The Ecstatic, then did "Re:"'s prequel "Definition" and then absolutely murdered "Respiration," which still holds up among both MCs best work.
At that point the two very different MCs met somewhere in the middle, bounding around each other and giving knowing, but still kind of awkward high fives. Kweli provided his steady, rapid-flow spit and Mos reigned in his weirdo genius, but still made room for his Kanye diatribe as a cringing Kweli nervously looked on.
After "Respiration" it was 1:30 a.m. and even though Mos announced "We ain't done yet" about half the crowd had cleared by that point. We had gotten what we wanted: a rare chance to see two incredible MCs revive a hip-hop classic. We can always listen to "Ms. Fat Booty" on our iPods or something.