Afrofuturism portrayed by Mos Def & Talib Kweli

On their landmark collaborative “Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star” album from 1998, rappers Mos Def and Talib Kweli implement many elements of Afrofuturism, amongst other themes such as black empowerment and dealing with their identities as rap stars and black men. The whole album touches upon these topics, but one track, “Thieves in the Night” came immediately to mind when I saw this week’s task. The inspiration for the track comes from a novel called “The Bluest Eye”, which is written from the perspective of a black girl who ponders how differently she would view the world if she (was white) had blue eyes. The track deals with this theme of being black in a white world and how to adjust without losing self-identity. On Mos Def’s verse, he says “I find it distressing, there’s never no in-between. We either n****s or Kings, we either b*****s or Queens”, referencing the way America encounters black people through white representations of them, which usually only show the extreme sides of the “spectrum” and leads people to misunderstand black people. Black culture is extremely stereotyped, which in turn cultivates the messages behind them from the amounts of exposure. In the hook, Mos and Talib trade bars about more of these stereotypes and how black personalities are contrived by the media. “Not strong, only aggressive/ Not free, we only licensed / Not compassionate, only polite / Not good but well behaved/ chasing after death so we can call ourselves brave/ still living like mental slaves”. The fourth line hints at the fact that where a white person might be called good, a black person in the same scenario would be described as “well-behaved” because the representation of black people in our society leads the masses to EXPECT them to be “bad” or “poorly-behaved”. Mos and Talib bring many elements of black culture to the light on this amazing album, but Thieves in the Night resonates with me the most in terms of Afrofuturism.

One Reply to “Afrofuturism portrayed by Mos Def & Talib Kweli”

  1. Lovely work not just with an album but a specific text, a song from that album. The Bluest Eye is a Toni Morrison novel, and her work has interesting connections with Afrofuturism, even if not conventionally seen as Afrofuturist (a discussion we might profitably have, on this blog and in class). What I want you to think about is the relationship between documentary versus speculation when it comes to “Thieves in the Knight.” We’ve seen that Afrofuturism can do the former but tends to do the latter and needs to mainly be reimagining in ways that think about new possibilities for what’s to come – even while those new possibilities are based on a knowledge of (violent, dispossessive, colonizing) history. I’m not sure I yet see that with “Thieves in the Knight” but I think you can get there – especially if you can bring in Snead, Dery, Hegel, etc. to help you.

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