Yasiin Bey, better known as Mos Def, is perhaps one of the most intelligent, charismatic and thought provoking emcees of all time. He blends soul, jazz, funk and blues like no other, infusing all these elements with hip hop, only by means of his voice and wise choices in production. A key thing to remember is that Mos Def & Yasiin Bey may be the same person, but they are still two different entities and tonight is all about Yasiin. He may have been joining us to celebrate the 15th anniversary of his debut album, Black on Both Sides, but that is not the centre of attention of this gig. He has taught his long-time collaborator Talib Kweli that the crowd are “paying to see what he feels like expressing, so it doesn’t matter whether he does the hits or not.” Luckily for us he does deliver the hits, but also offers a glimpse into his own mind and what inspires him, keeping everything 100% on his own terms.
His live show has been somewhat berated in recent years, but his consistency throughout this performance leaves very little room for criticism. His renditions of classics like ‘Love’, ‘Mathematics’ & ‘Ms. Fat Booty’ may not resonate in the same tone as they do on the record that we are here to celebrate, but it is important to realise that the change in his style of delivery or production is what makes this such a personal performance, one that is much more than your average hip hop show. It is hard not to marvel at an artist who can make their oldest and most overplayed material refreshing for a new audience, while still pleasing the people who have been following him for 15 years. It is a thin line to tread but it is one that Yasiin does with ease and grace.
An overzealous fan jumping on stage mid song doesn’t even break his stride. What could have turned into an altercation became a lesson learned for a young fan, that his happiness is not more important than everyone else’s. It is only at a Mos Def show that a stage jumper, instead of being thrown out, is let back in the crowd after genuinely being taught a lesson. He performs his newer material with an energy that is not present during the older tracks. He appears happier to have the opportunity to inject some soulful crooning into the songs and it is something that feels improvised, even when it’s not. This only testifies to his ability to command the mic and captivate the crowd like no other. The only things that manage to over shadow the music are his charisma and elegance, and that can’t be a bad thing.