Do Remember: Black Star’s K.O.S. (Determination) (Audio)
1998’s breakthrough album, Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star introduced the Hip-Hop masses, and eventually the mainstream, to two brilliant Brooklyn, New York creative visionaries. The Rawkus Records release followed a season of 12″ singles, compilation appearances, and in the case of Mighty Mos, some high-profile features (De La Soul, N’Dea Davenport, Da Bush Babees).
This album, a key step in Rawkus’ establishment of a talent hot-bed, has plenty of charms. Save for Common and Da Beatminerz, much of this release was made by emerging artists, or talents who had lived in the shadows. Together, this ensemble cast made a definitive Underground Hip-Hop album, that forced the upper-echelon of artists in the industry to pay attention. Moreover, for a 13-song LP with two singles, this work was greatly informed by its album cuts.
One of those songs, “K.O.S. (Determination)” remains in focus, nearly 17 years later. Featuring veteran Native Tongues affiliate Vinia Mojica, this song, an acronym for “Knowledge Of Self” was an expression for Black men at the time. Talib Kweli, who just this week, penned a powerful essay (“From Ferguson to Freedom: Hip-Hop’s Role”), was especially strong in the Hi-Tek-produced moment:
“Knowledge Of Self is like life after death
With that you never worry about your last breath
Death comes, that’s how I’m livin, it’s the next days
The flesh goes underground, the book of life, flip the page” – Talib Kweli
These bars allude to the possibility of death, and the spiritual freedom achieved by K.O.S. Throughout the song, Talib examines the treacherous pitfalls of materialism, greed, addiction, and the prison system. Mos merely provides background vocals in what was a clear pivot towards 2000’s Reflection Eternal debut from Talib and Tek. Two years before the Black Star MCs would purchase Brooklyn’s, Nkiru Center for Education and Culture, they would encourage all to find peace through understanding the past, and in turn, themselves. At a time when mainstream Hip-Hop was serving superficialities, Black Star made potent, stylish, and applicable music for an audience who could relate on a deeper level. While Mos Def (n/k/a Yasiin Bey) and Kwe’ would make plenty of songs to reach the masses—including on this ’98 release, these MCs were unafraid to be specific, heartfelt, and write boldly.
In a difficult 12 months filled with police brutality, terrorist attacks, and judicial inconsistencies to Black folks in America, this song rings true, and demands re-visitation.
Speaking of Brooklyn, and great MCs, purchase tickets to the 2015 Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. This year’s lineup on July 11 includes Common, Mobb Deep, Freeway, Skyzoo, Charles Hamilton, and more.