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New American Songbook

Distinguishing and Defining 'Black Star'

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rapgenius.com
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‘Blackstar,’ the last album from pop star David Bowie, begs to be interpreted. Like many other Bowie albums, it carries with it its own mythos, and in the wake of his death, there is a sense of urgency to demystify the record, to glean some last message that must surely be embedded in the music. However, for hip hop fans, the task isn’t to decode but to distinguish—we already have a Blackstar and the question of what or who that is was settled in 1998.  

The problem isn’t that Bowie chose to use ‘black star’ as a motif—the term itself is capable of encompassing a variety of definitions. Rather, the issue is that Bowie’s ‘black star’ exists close enough to the album of the same name by Talib Kweli and Mos Def as to not only invite comparison, but to suffer because of it. This is partially because of the weakness of Bowie’s development of the theme, but also because Mos and Kweli do such solid work defining what a ‘black star’ is.

Each claim that the duo makes is infused with place and history, while Bowie is too casual in merely claiming the term, undermining our initial sense that this song is supposed to actually mean something.

Granted, Bowie’s song craft is impressionistic—we’re not expected to take him literally—yet somehow that doesn’t exempt Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ from the obligation of context. It’s too close to this other brighter burning Black Star, and might be more aptly named ‘Icarus’ for all its earnest but ultimately reckless ambition.