Mos Def struck me as some sort of savant and Talib as a social political theorist who happened to form rhymes. They seemed like learned brothers who, with their eloquence and wit, could not only string sentences together to uplift our collective consciousness, but could also add the musical inflections that kept heads bobbing and an entire generation bouncing to their style of poetic Brooklynism. With Talib, I was more aware of his contribution to Nkiru books as I would, as a matter of principle, always head to this bookshop in Brooklyn where he once sold me a book of poetry by Phife Dawg’s mom.
Otchere recognized Black Star as more than just a record and more of a consciousness that was permeating the scene at the time. “Photography is casting shadows on paper, cooked in waters and chemicals. It’s about this planet and my relationship to it,” Otchere has said.
Call it backpack consciousness, Brooklynism, golden age. Whatever you want to call it, London-born photographer Eddie Otchere was on it. After graduating from the London College of Printing in 1993, he caught a lucky break when the Wu Tang Clan made their UK debut. That day Otchere met ODB, RZA, Meth, Red, and the rest of Shaolin’s finest, going on to produce some of the most memorable portraits of Wu and a number of other music icons including Jay Z, Snoop Dogg, Biggie Smalls, and perhaps most notably for true rap fans, the 1998 cover shoot for seminal hip hop group Black Star. was the only studio album from Talib Kweli and Mos Def (who now goes by the name Yasiin Bey).
I have no recollection of styling meetings or being directed in any way. We agreed that we had to do the shoot in Brooklyn under Brooklyn skies. To me, they were the postmodern incarnation of the Garveyite back to Africa movement that emerged in New York 100 years earlier. This movement sought funds to create a Black Star Line to transport skilled African Americans back to Africa as the logical conclusion to 400 years of western servitude. I knew where the core of their vision was coming from, and a century after Garvey, we now had Mos Def and Talib. I saw Black Star as a consciousness as well as a concept album.