A Love Letter to "Black Star"

Posted by Amoebite, May 18, 2015 04:47pm | Post a Comment

Love Letter to Black Star

I loved our recent Essential Records piece about Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star. I loved the personal reflection and the reminiscing about that time and how it had an impact. So many of us are touched by music at a point in our lives - by a particular song or record - and it's amazing how much it sticks with us, and resonates for years and years and years. Just hearing that record can make us feel something deeply: a moment in time, a time in our lives. Music is the wallpaper and the soundtrack. For some of us it is something way more than the background, it is at the core of who we were and are and who we developed into.

Karen at Leopold RecordsKaren at the Info Counter (~1990)

Of course I had a slightly different, but just as pivotal, experience with the release of the album. It has been one that has carried me from the Bay down to LA. Black Star was released the year that Amoeba opened in San Francisco. It was what reminded and reassured me why I was committed to doing what we do every day with music. Because, simply put, artists and musicians were still challenging and stretching and inventing and bringing music to people in a whole new way to whole new generations.

In 1976, I was just a kid ("lil K") in a record store. Leopold Records in Berkeley, specifically. I was lucky enough to be in the "business" at a time when folks were discovering Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, and the roots of what would transform music completely. I was there to see how people responded; how rap music and hip-hop electrified people. Like nothing anyone had ever heard. Except they HAD, you know? It was all at once familiar and new, energizing and addictive.

I was in the thick of it from the early '80s to 1995 when Leopold's closed. When that happened, I was sad to think that somehow that "era" had closed or that the connect I felt to that music would evaporate because I couldn't see my people every day, because that outlet had been shut down. It was at that time that things were shifting in the music too, moving more toward what we now know as "pop-R&B" with slick productions and hooks. Puff Daddy was at the helm. Not that I don't love TLCEn VogueMariahBrandyXscape (I do!), but it can be easier to be nostalgic about that era (maybe when comparing to what is out there today?), and at the time I felt a loss.

Leopold Records

Back Row: Karen, Gerald Albright, Warner Atlantic Rep (~1987)
Front Row: Mark Beaver, Roxanne Pettersen

MC Lyte Karen at Leopold Records

MC Lyte & Karen (1991)

Michael Franti at Leopold Records

Wendell Thomas, Michael Franti, Karen

In hindsight maybe it was more of a "softening" -- the balance needed from the hard-hitting rap and hip-hop. Who knows? Plenty of mornings we opened our store to the Bodyguard soundtrack, with Whitney belting her lungs out while the store was empty and we got ready for the day. There was something so comforting about that. Not "soft" at all, but powerful. But that is for another post one day. Someone has or probably will write a dissertation about all of that.

Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star

When I lost "my store," I felt I lost "my music." Getting back into it and setting up the Amoeba store in San Francisco, I started to feel connected again. It was a healing process. And it was the excitement of the release of Black Star that made me feel safe and inspired again. It's not rational, but it's true, as emotions often are. It's about a feeling. When I heard that record, I felt like there was hope. Hope for me personally, for music, for young people connecting to music. People like Ray, who wrote our Essential Records piece. I didn't know him then, but I felt him and knew instinctively that this record would have an impact on him. And that made me feel hope, like music does. It makes you feel hope when it touches you. You know...hallelujah!

That is what I hope we do every day. We connect people with music and we understand what a deep connection that is.

-- Karen Pearson, co-owner of Amoeba


Relevant Tags

Amoeba San Francisco (106), Leopold Records (4), Hip Hop (94), Talib Tweli (2), Mos Def (20), Black Star (6), Essential Records (35), Hip Hop (94), Last Poets (2), Gil Scott-heron (10), Mos Def And Talib Kweli Are Black Star (2)