Eddie Otchere: The shoot took place in Brooklyn on a Saturday morning in 1998. We all met at the Rawkus Offices on 676 Broadway, and Black Shaun drove us in his jeep to Nostrand Avenue. I stopped for a Guinness Punch at the Jamaican spot opposite The Black Lady Theater, as that was our base camp in Brooklyn. The landmark was our location and we shot the cover on the street, and the single cover on the roof, above the Jamaican jerk place.
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.
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.
It’s logical to me how it works in traditional hip hop. First you gain the recognition of all your peers on the block before you take your hood, your city, your state, your nation and then the world. So we went back to the block, and when we were there many people would come up to talk to Mos Def. They knew him as Dante; today he is Yasiin Bey. The love was there, these men had earned their place, these men could carry the torch for Brooklyn.
Black Shaun was driving, Mos Def was in the front seat, and myself and Talib were in the back. We met in the morning and were finished by lunchtime. There was no set, set pieces or set ups; it was just another day in Brooklyn with a Bronica 6/45, Mamiya C330, Minolta x700 as well as a Canon Rebel. To be honest, on the Brooklyn Bridge, Mos revealed an idea he had about building a big band tribute performing hip hop classics called B.I.G.G.I.E. They had so many ideas that the shoot was just one extended conversation of ideas. It was on the way back that I tabled the idea of doing the follow up album cover shoot in Ghana, West Africa—the home of the black stars. Somehow I felt that this album was the first in a series of episodes, the next stage being a more overtly afro-centric one.