In a Nutshell
"Mathematics" is a striking, serious track about the warehousing of poor people in prisons, housing projects, and social welfare programs. A chill, forward beat and instrumentals by DJ Premier provide the structure for the simplest sort of mathematical act: counting up from one.
But after Mos Def (who deserves to be crowned king of creative counting) triumphantly hits ten, the verses get far, far more complicated…
About the Song
||Musician(s)||Mos Def (vocals), DJ Premier (instrumentals), with samples from Mos Def, Fat Joe, Snoop Dogg, Raekwon, Ghostbusters soundtrack, Erykah Badu, Fatback Band, James Brown
|Album||Black on Both Sides|
|Writer(s)||Mos Def (Dante Terrell Smith), DJ Premier (Christopher Edward Martin)|
Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
Mos Def's brave, brainy word-smithing takes us from Dante's Inferno
to the housing projects, for-profit prisons, and crack cocaine epidemic – along with some other super-shady dealings
– that went down in the 1980s
. He reminds us that we have to know math
to understand economics
. Or is his point that we have to understand social issues in order to understand math?
Well, at the very least, take this advice from the end of the first verse: "You wanna know how to rhyme
, you better learn how to add
If you just wanna figure out how to understand this complicated song... read on.
On the Charts
Mos Def's solo debut, the album Black on Both Sides
peaked at #25 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart
in 1999. The only charting single from the album was not "Mathematics," but "Ms. Fat Booty." Go figure.