Black and bold

Nov 17, 1999 at 12:00 am

When one record label simultaneously releases albums by two heralded MCs from two different eras in hip hop, "buzz" does not come close to describing the anticipation of fans.

Mos Def’s name and face were stapled on hip-hop’s collective consciousness when he and partner Talib Kweli dropped Black Star last year. While Kweli seemed to have the more profound thought process of the two, it was Mos Def who offered styles and rhythms that honored the most creative aspects of the culture. But whether he could hold his own on a solo disc was questionable.

Well, you know how certain questions get answered well enough to make the questioner shut the hell up forever? Black on Both Sides offers the most consciousness, concern, class, style and versatility since The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. True, that’s a tall accolade. But when was the last time you got down to a protest song about America’s contamination and marketing of its water supply? When was the last time someone rapped, sang, dueted and educated you, all on one disc? With the exception of Mos’ eons-long tribute to his hometown of Brooklyn, you’ll never fast-forward this CD. "Do It Now," "Got," "Mathematics" and "New World Water" are highlights.

On the other side of Rawkus Records, Mos’ labelmate Pharoahe Monch has spent almost 10 years struggling for the recognition that eluded his group Organized Konfusion. Now with a new promo team – and new energy – he puts his best foot forward with a solo debut that is similar to Mos Def’s in skill level only. Monch is such a complex and brutally honest lyricist that it may take two listens to determine whether he is attempting to be constructive or destructive. But the former adjective fits.

Monch’s beef is with those other destructive forces which have, as he says, proceeded to "Rape" hip hop of its creative nature ("You ain’t fuckin’ it right!"). His club banger, "Simon Says," sets the tone for the album early, and he pulls in the talents of Common, Kweli, Canibus and others to grind in his manipulation of beats and rhymes.

Look at it this way. Mos Def’s project has potential to influence the way future artists make songs. Monch’s will live in your CD player for months to come. Either way, you can’t go wrong.