The artist formerly known as Mos Def discusses his work with Kweli and shares the inspiration behind his "Top 40 Underdog" series.
As he continues to work on a couple of different projects, Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) has some news to share. He has his Top 40 Underdog project, a series of reinterpreted hits that he has started to leak. Of course, he is also working on a new Black Star album with longtime friend and collaborator Talib Kweli. During a recent interview with Hypebeast, Bey discussed both of these projects and explained that he's "doing ['Top 40'] for the culture" and that he is "excited" about his work with Kweli.
When asked about his Top 40 Underdog series, Bey explained that he is creating new versions of hits because it is part of the Hip Hop tradition. Likening his work to that of 50 Cent's early mixtape material and that of Dancehall musicians, he shared that he is using this as an opportunity to express himself.
"I am doing this for the culture," he noted. "The tradition, taking someone’s song and making your version out of it, is not new to Hip Hop. It is similar to Dancehall music, where there is one rhythm and many artists offer their interpretation of it. Covering songs is certainly in the DNA of the culture. 50 Cent, as a matter of fact, built his name in New York for awhile doing just that. I also like the community mind aspect of it that it belongs to all of us. It basically gives and extends the life of our culture, our rhythm. Thus, this series is something that comes quite natural for me to do. I’ve done it before. Just look at 'Children’s Story,' or even my version of Jay-Z’s 'Takeover' in 2004. It is something that is really fun to do, you know, giving different perspectives on a familiar piece. There are a lot of songs on Top 40 Radio, not just in current day charts, that I have been a fan of and obviously my content is a lot different from what people would hear on Top 40 Radio to say the least. That being said, I am a fan of music and I seek for just another opportunity to express myself and give my point of view on certain things."
He is also expressing himself in his work as one half of Black Star. In this interview, Yasiin also shed light on what makes his work with Kweli so special, adding that there is "no pressure" when working with his longtime friend and that it is very much like the work of Jazz collaborators in the past.
"Talib and I have always worked on a project or song here and there ever since we started as Black Star. We always did shows together and whatnot. We have been close friends for at least 15 years now. There is no pressure whatsoever. We didn’t form our identities as solo artists to start the group. Kweli was a solo artist, I was a solo artist and we came together and produced Black Star much in the same tradition that you have seen with jazz collaborations. John Coltrane and Don Cherry teamed up with a group of artists to do one specific project. And that was the real intention behind Black Star. I like what this guy is doing. I have always liked his approach – his skill – and I like what he’s doing and what he has to say."
Providing more hope for those wishing for a Black Star reunion, the two have recently released a couple of tracks. In December, Kweli spoke with HipHopDX about his work with Yasiin and their upcoming album/mixtape. Yasiin echoed those words in this interview, as well.
"Now it feels like the right time for Black Star to come back. My sentiment was always like Black Star has always been a special time and space for both of us as men and artists. If we want to do it, then we have to do it for the right reasons. We don’t want to come back solely on the basis that people wanted it or a big check. In our professional and personal space we are very open and clear. Kweli is completely independent, no label, no obligation and it is good to have this full circle, having even more control to do what we actually want to do. I am excited."
For more, check the full interview at Hypebeast.