20 Years Later: Mos Def’s ‘Black on Both Sides’ Captures the Rhythms of Black Expression

For TIDAL, we explore Mos Def’s ‘Black on Both Sides,’ an album that captures the rhythms of black expression.
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20 Years Later: Mos Def's 'Black on Both Sides' Captures the Rhythms of Black Expression

“You know what’s gonna happen with hip-hop? / Whatever’s happening with us” —Yasiin Bey, “Fear Not Of Man”

Yasiin Bey — formerly known as Mos Def — spent the end of the 20th century eagerly looking at the 21st. On October 12, 1999, just two months before the beginning of the new millennium, he released his debut solo album, Black On Both Sides. Its intro track, “Fear Not Of Man,” serves as a State of The Union on hip-hop at the precipice of 2000.

Bey’s forward-thinking ambitions shine through from the first seconds of “Fear Not Of Man” as he attempts to predict the future of hip-hop. Produced by Bey himself, the track begins with sampled drums from Fela Kuti’s “Fear Not For Man” over live instruments before letting out a loud “Oh-oooooh.” “That was for Brooklyn,” he says, creating a bridge between Nigeria and Bed-Stuy. 

Yasiin understood that hip-hop was a culture built on connectivity, and he was more than willing to transmute this message across local and diasporic lines. He knew Blackness was cool, no matter from where it hails. In that respect, Black On Both Sides is and always was more than a traditionalist hip-hop screed. Both lyrically and musically, the album remains a grand display of Black expression in its purest form by being unafraid to tap into the culture’s many rhythms.

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