Formerly Mos Def, now Yasiin Bey released Black on Both Sides at the end of 1999. There are a few songs on the album I frequently include in playlists and definitely hold a stronger appreciation for his body of work and those whom he collaborates with, now as an adult.
I have always loved hip-hop. Not necessarily fitting into the 'stereotype' of a hip-hop fan as it has been perceived over the years, yet ironically, I find the culture to be the most inclusive and penetrative as an art form with a political and conscious voice. From visual art to fashion to film, the music has created a cultural vibe that transcends across a variety of creative mediums on a global level. Arguably the most revolutionary musical genre that is reflective and definitive of the times, hip-hop has well-established eras in its history that is moving into its 6th decade, tracing back the roots to 1970s Bronx, NY.
At present, given the activism we are seeing/supporting/embodying, people are chomping at the bit for Kendrick to drop something new discussing the cultural climate. Aside from he and J. Cole, who I believe is part of the current movement toward conscious rap having a broader audience reach for all the right reasons; there is the opportunity to explore all the hip-hop eras and the legendary rap crooning that can be found on Black on Both Sides.
As mentioned, I appreciate the artists I grew up with from a more mature perspective now, but also the resonance will find you when you need it. "Umi Says" almost acts as a rally cry toward equality. "Put my heart and soul into this y'all, I hope you feel me" alludes to exactly what we are going through in present life, those the story is nothing new. "My dreamers said shine your light on the world (Want black people to be free, to be free, to be free)" the desire to live a life of peace and liberation is a simple ask, but not one that is attainable to all due to oppressive acts. I encourage you to listen to and read the lyrics for their bittersweet, beautiful hopes of unity. If peaceful protests were encapsulated in a song, I think this would be it.
The poetic nature with the passion heard in his voice with a sweetness to it amidst the instrumentals that can carry you away into a meditative state, which is actually how I have applied this song to my life. There is a particular spot on one of my usual trails I hike to and "Umi Says" has been a staple on my meditative playlist for years. I often save it for that particular spot beneath two trees that create this little magical shaded hut. The opening of the song coincides nicely with the shining through the branches shading me.
Umi is Arabic for mother, here with direct meaning, also in reference to mother earth, the matriarchal wisdom. This song holds so much insight and the layers of beauty from the instrumentals that accompany the lyrics are worthy of a listen at present. As is the entire album and Mos Def's (Yasiin Bey's) entire repertoire.
Some similar artists worth a listen are Talib Kweli, Black Star (Mos Def & Talib Kweli collaboration,) A Tribe Called Quest, Common, De La Soul, Digable Planets, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Jurassic 5, MF Doom, Rakim, The Roots and of course, Wu-Tang Clan.
Oh and Pharoahe Monch deserves an honorable mention. I am proud to admit that Simon Says was my morning alarm for awhile. A little aggressive enthusiasm will have you jumping right out of bed!