Mos Def Explains How He Knew Kanye West Would Be Great

Yesterday (September 9), Drink Champs aired the audio version its long-awaited episode featuring Black Star and Dave Chappelle. One of the limited press spots that Talib Kweli and Yasiin Bey have done surrounding their May album, the Madlib-produced No Fear Of Time featured talk about the LP, but it is also spent several minutes discussing a collaborator and past Drink Champs guest: Kanye West.

In late 2021, ‘Ye appeared on the podcast to discuss a grocery list of topics over two parts. The artist spoke about why he had been at war with Drake, how Beanie Sigel deserved financial compensation for coining the “Yeezy” nickname, and vented frustrations with some past friends and collaborators, including Talib Kweli, Common, and John Legend.

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At 26:00 in the new Black Star Drink Champs appearance, Kweli reveals that just days before the 2021 Drink Champs taping with Kanye, he and his “Get By” producer hung out at a party where Talib was DJ’ing. The MC-turned-DJ dedicated a set to his friend, who entered the gathering without security. “I got a lot of love for Kanye. There was underlying context behind [his remarks about me]. It really had nothing to do with bars, or Common, or baseball hats, or none of that. It had nothing to do with that,” Kweli argues. The MC believes Kanye criticized him on Drink Champs as a response to Talib’s comments made during a 2018 Drink Champs, alongside dead prez. Kweli points to the deep history he has with Kanye, evident in Coodie & Chike’s  jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy documentary on Netflix.

N.O.R.E. points out that in that same doc’, there is footage of Yasiin Bey telling cameras that Kanye’s star power was undeniable. “It was fairly obvious to me from the get-go where that was headed. It already [was happening] when we met him; he was an amazing producer,” Yasiin agrees. “He had all the star quality. He was different. He challenged—in my opinion—a lot of the macho notion that’s associated with Hip-Hop.” N.O.R.E. mentions some provocative quotes that ‘Ye has said recently that illustrate this point about redefining Hip-Hop’s image.

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Yasiin says that he recognized Kanye’s greatness in his days before The College Dropout. “Listen to the beats; he did ‘The Truth’ for Beanie Sigel! I said, ‘Listen, if this guy is 50% as good rhyming as he is with them beats, then it’s a runaway hit.'” Yasiin then name-checks other double threat collaborators: “Diamond D is another MC/producer; Stunts Blunts & Hip Hop is a classic! Pete Rock, who just kinda flirted with rhyming sometimes—whenever he would do it, it was a pure thing. Hi-Tek is the same way. [J] Dilla is the same way—Pharrell.”

However, West distinguished himself from other MC/producers according to Yasiin Bey. “Kanye just took it to the fullest extension. People weren’t trying to accept Kanye because he doesn’t fit into the archetype of what’s been a solo rapper image at that time. He changed the paradigm for what was possible in terms of an audience connecting with not just the music, but an approach.” Yasiin points to the College Dropout bear mascot, the album series, and artwork. As Mos Def, the MC appeared with Freeway and The Harlem Boys Choir on video single “Two Words,”including a Chappelle’s Show performance. “[Kanye West] made songs that appealed to everybody, no matter where you were. It was just good music; ‘Good Life’ is not about some macho posture. It’s just dope.”

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Yasiin points to Puff Daddy’s 1997 statement album with No Way Out. The mogul stepped into the artist space after the death of The Notorious B.I.G. However, Yasiin argues that Puff was less of an MC than ever Dr. Dre—another producer who solicited writers for his verses. Bey points to ‘Ye’s “Monster” lyrics: “[No] matter who you go and get, ain’t nobody cold as this / Do the rap and the track, triple-double, no assists. “He’s telling you. When you have that kind of talent musically, naturally, you’re gonna have something interesting to say. ‘Thru The Wire’ is the most Rock & Roll sh*t ever. Who does a verse with they jaw wired shut? And that’s their response to flying out of the window of a moving car.” “It was always evident to me. He had the vision.”

Yasiin closes his point with an examination of Kanye West’s Graduation. The 2007 album was part of a sales battle against 50 Cent’s Curtis. “This is 50 [Cent] post-Get Rich Or Die Tryin’; 50’s like up.” classic. “It was that whole battle that they were very happy to have.””The moment that I left that theater, I was like ‘Kanye wins.’ I don’t care what 50 Cent got in the tank, he is not being this album at this time. It was just so creative. I mean, ‘Good Morning.’ Graduation is just like a [Michael Jackson] Thriller moment that people don’t appropriately appreciate. I feel like they try to hate on it; ’cause he really sold a million records in a day—I don’t care what they say; I don’t know sh*t about the space program.” Later, Yasiin points to the documented 957,000 sales figure, and says it deserves treatment as a full million. “That kept the record industry floating for at least the next five years,” argues Mos Def, who appeared on the album’s “Drunk And Hot Girls.” Yasiin admits that he saw Kanye’s vision following a 2007 listening party at a Midtown Manhattan theater. There, ‘Ye provided caramel popcorn and illustrated programs to his music set against curated anime clips.

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The MC, who in 2010 was reportedly signed to G.O.O.D. Music continues: “[50 Cent] was riding in the tide that Kanye created.” Yasiin argues that Kanye West outdid Coldplay, U2, and other massive Rock outfits in shaping culture. “[Graduation] opened up the paradigm creatively, for what could be viewed as groundbreaking and inventive, and also having big scale. There was no one at pop culture who was being that creative, particularly in Hip-Hop.” The 2007 moment reinforced the person Yasiin and Talib had met nearly a decade earlier. “Kanye just stayed true to himself.” In 2018, Yasiin appeared on KIDS SEE GHOSTS, an album by ‘Ye and Kid Cudi.

In addition to his own new Black Star album, Yasiin Bey recently appeared on J.I.D.’s The Forever Story. Last month, Talib Kweli interviewed DJ Quik on his podcast.

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#BonusBeat: Ambrosia For Heads’ What’s The Headline podcast reviews Black Star’s No Fear Of Time in May 2022: