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Brooklyn, New York, a home to everyone from everywhere. Aside from the aesthetic photos posted around the internet, there's a fight in this borough, a fight inside of the people. Brooklyn is immensely populous; with so many people sharing one home, there comes a lot of anxiety and some pretty intense competition, though that doesn't stop the natives from dreaming of making it to the top. From experience, Brooklyn can be described as a "zoo" - for good or bad - you never know what to expect. Despite this, the city is an artistic factory that has shaped so many creatives into the incredible artists that we know today. 

I've learned a great many lesson from my hometown and I do my best to implement these lessons into my everyday life. One particular native from the Borough of Trees whose soulful music brings me back to these foundations is the mighty Mos Def, also known as Yasiin Bey. Def embodies the beauty of the Brooklyn spirit in his music like no other. To spread the love, after all, is the Brooklyn way.

Brooklyn life can be expressed in many creative ways, whether it's through photography, graffiti, or music. Whatever the art form, Brooklyn is always best represented by the creativity of its people. Classic Hip Hop has always been my favorite genre of music, especially Hip-Hop coming from the Empire State. This music always connected me with myself and the world around me and that's exactly what Mos Def's classic 1999 Black on Both Sides album does every time I hear it.



Mos Def wasn't a rapper in the traditional sense; he didn't always talk about guns, girls, drugs, and the money in his bank account. He was a true artist and a musician in every sense of the word. Many of the songs from Black on Both Sides were lyrically profound and incredibly soulful; you could feel what he was trying to say. Def didn't just give us a beat to bop our heads to while sitting on the train station, his music sent graceful messages for all of us to hear and learn from. With this very album being the one I listen to every morning to start my day, there are many songs that I can connect with past memories from my old home and life lessons that I have learned.

'Umi Says' will go down as not only one of my favorite songs from Mos Def, but one of my favorite songs of all time. I've had my ups and downs in life, as we all have, and there were moments where I felt I couldn't possibly reach my full potential. Whether I was losing faith in myself or was too tired to get something done, there have been moments where I've asked myself 'can I really do this?' Mos Def's music helped me overcome these negative emotions, and allowed me to move forward in life. While not only having a heartfelt rhythm; the lyrics in this song are significantly eloquent and include a number of important messages.

  • Tomorrow may never come
  • For you or me, life is not promised
  • Tomorrow may never show up
  • For you and me, this life is not promised

These specific lyrics remind me to live in the present moment and not to be stuck fearful of the future or living in the past.

I had a pretty bad day in a train station once, I was only 14 years old and I had to figure out how to make it to Manhattan from Brooklyn when one of the trains I usually took stopped running due to the fact that someone was struck by the train. Thankfully, everything worked out well, other than the fact I got yelled at by a homeless guy (it's regular in New York). Even after this event, I was stressed out by the thought of ever jumping on the B train again. Then I thought about those lyrics, and considered the possibility of the same thing happening twice. No way, so why should I be worried? Even if it did, future me can deal with that stuff later.

I'm not super wealthy, my family isn't wealthy, I'm not a genius and I'm just not perfect; I'm only a human with his own potential. It's my responsibility to work on that potential with everything I already have at hand. Though I can't forget that I'm still young and there's way more to come in life. In the present, I'm learning about the ethics of today's world.

  • My Umi said shine your light on the world
  • Shine your light for the world to see
  • My Abi said shine your light on the world
  • Shine your light for the world to see

"Umi" is Arabic for "mother" and "Abi" is Arabic for "father". Mos Def's mother and father want him to spread his message and love around the world. The main chorus of the song itself is what touches me the most. Whether or not I see my own potential, my family around me tells me I can do great things; this is what keeps me going forward, to not be fearful of the future but rather be hopeful for it.


  • Sometimes I get discouraged
  • I look around and, things are so weak
  • People are so weak
  • Sometimes, sometimes I feel like crying
  • Sometimes my heart gets heavy
  • Sometimes I just want to leave and fly away (Like a dove)
  • Sometimes I don't know what to do with myself
  • Passion takes over me
  • I feel like a man, going insane, losing my brain
  • Trying to maintain, doing my thang
  • Put my heart and soul into this y'all
  • I hope you feel me where I am, to wherever you are

Tough times will come, that's something guaranteed by life. The main goal is to not let this stop you from doing your own thing and achieving your own greatness. Conflict will always be there - we're not all perfect. Life isn't perfect. Just don't forget to shine your light on the world for all to see.

This is the third song on the Black on Both Sides album. It isn't a song about simply loving your significant other, it's about spreading love to everyone surrounding you, even those who are driven by hate. In a world that can be filled with so much hate, you have to let love take over and drive you. Hate only lends itself to more suffering.

  • They say that goodness in life belongs to those who believe:
  • So, I believe. Yes

Believe in yourself, believe in life. No good will come if you don't learn to believe first. I've had my trials and tribulations, as Brooklyn, the 'zoo' that I hail from has taken more than a couple of jabs at my face. Even with the bad times, I believe, today I still believe. I believe in the good times that will soon come; patience and love is the real key here.

  • It was love for the thing that made me wanna stay out
  • It was love for the thing that made me stay in the house
  • Spending time, writing rhymes
  • Trying to find words that describe the vibe
  • That's inside the space
  • When you close your eyes and screw your face (close your eyes)

Mos Def is an artist that is completely driven by love. Love drives him to get out of the house and spend time with those he holds dear to his heart. Love is the same exact thing that pushes him to write his music and become an artist with real purpose. To share this love with his listeners, he sends his poetry through your headphones to help you visualize the powerful message he's speading.

Talking about spreading love, we currently we have a nation that is both politically and racially divided. Slavery has long been abolished, segregation is over and we have freedom of religion, but today our divisions are a result of differing opinions. My whole life I've hated politics, not only because it runs the world, but because it runs the people. People let politics control their opinions and cloud their judgment, inciting hatred towards others. Unfortunately, the ugly side of politics has been making its mark on today's world. Is it simply because were not making the effort to communicate with one another?

I admire the courage of New Yorkers, past and present, they're never shy to protest for their beliefs. But it's the message they send that I care about the most. I'm not a big fan of violent protests because violence isn't the best method for getting a message through to someone. If you're vandalizing buildings and stomping over people, you'll be judged by the cover of your book, no one will care about your message of what's on the inside. That's what I love about Mos Def's music so much - he's able to provide powerful messages in his music in beautiful, non-aggressive ways.

One of Mos Def's greatest hits to ever be released is a song that's beloved by Brooklyn natives and people around the world to this day. In his lyrics, Def spoke to the people using sociological statistics, which is why the motto of the song is "it's simple mathematics".

  • Beats by Su-Primo for all of my people, negroes and latinos
  • And even the gringos

Mos Def wrote this song for all to listen to, his people; whether you're an African-American, Hispanic, or even White.

  • The body of my text possess extra strength
  • Power-lift the powerless up out of this towering inferno
  • My ink so hot it burn through the journal

Def grew up in Roosevelt Projects in Brooklyn; the projects are also known as "the ghetto"and can be widely expressed as a "hell on Earth". 

He writes his music to empower his listeners and help lift those who struggle out of bad situations. When I was a kid living in Brooklyn, I was lucky enough to never truly live in the projects. Though I never resided in these neighborhoods, that doesn't mean I don't know what it means to live in that environment. I've been around the projects enough to know the struggle of the people. It's all about surviving there, doing the best you can to make it.

  • Working-class poor: better keep your alarm set
  • Streets too loud to ever hear freedom ring
  • Say evacuate your sleep, it's dangerous to dream
  • For ch-ching, cats get the "cha-pow!" You dead now
  • Killing fields need blood to graze the cash cow
  • It's a numbers game, but it don't add up somehow

Many people say that "Hip-Hop is dead". It's hard to truly believe this but then I listen to what's popular in today's music and well, it might be true. There are still artists out there that use their music to speak to the people, such as J-Cole, Eminem, Logic, and Childish Gambino. The big problem though is, who's listening? Today, most people would trade art for a beat fetish. All you need is some loud beat and whatever you say over it doesn't matter. Artists Like Mos Def spoke about the struggles of the ghetto life and the hope for better days; while rappers today glorify "the hood life". You have people in the music industry with a love for killing and drug dealing, all for an ego. There's no problem with being proud of where you came from and stay true to your origin, but the whole goal is to escape hell, to make it to the top with your morality intact. That's what Mos tries to teach us through his music.

Nothing but a delightful Hip-Hop instrumental, with the instruments played completely by Mos Def himself. Whenever I listen to this song, I can't help but reminisce on everything - good times and bad. I remember where I come from, I remember everything shaped me into who I am today. My home city, my memories, and the amazing people around me are all I need.

All that magic and dazzling isn't on stage, it's in you. I'm only a product of myself.

Don't forget who you are, stay truthful to yourself. Recognize your potential and use it to your advantage. Through your own journey, shine your light on the world. Send a message to the people, and don't ever forget to spread love all around. It's the Brooklyn way.