Mos Def/Yasiin Bey @ Celebrity Theatre|3/21/13
It's clear that Yasiin Bey (a.k.a. Mos Def) is one of the most likable guys in hip-hop history. The 39-year-old rapper is most known for his critically acclaimed album Black on Both Sides, as well as his work with fellow New York MC Talib Kweli in the duo Blackstar. Those projects set Mos Def up to be one of the most prolific icons of the past decade. He's parlayed his music career into a somewhat stable acting run, which made him one of the most recognizable figures in hip-hop today.
Throughout the '00s, Mos Def gave us solid projects that showed the artist's knack for hardcore hip-hop as well as soul-drenched melodies and thought-provoking, politically charged lyrics. After making a highly publicized move to Kanye West's G.O.O.D. music imprint in 2010, Mos Def adopted the moniker "Yasiin Bey." He's yet to release any original music on the label, but the anticipation is on the rise as Mos Def has indicated that he has a full LP in the works with mega-producer Mannie Fresh. There hasn't been a lot of info on the project, but with Mos Def embarking on one of his first tours in years, the buzz has been rising. Mr. Bey made a stop in Phoenix Thursday night to catch us up with what he has been working on for the past couple of years -- and it's pretty awesome.
Dressed in white, Mos Def hit the stage around 10:30 to an eager audience. As the crowd went into a complete uproar, it was exciting to see the rapper turned actor bless the audience with his wide array of songs. Interestingly enough, Mos Def was accompanied by two DJs instead of the standard one. It would seem that Mos Def normally does his shows with a live band. I say this because the first half of his set included lots of pre-recorded live instrumentation and dance numbers. Yasiin Bey was not afraid to show off his dance moves as he sashayed and shimmied across the stage with an almost James Brown-style swagger. The first half of his set was clearly experimental, but he played the occasional hip-hop track from his first effort Black on Both Sides as well as few from more recent releases like The Ecstatic and True Magic. He also blended in the occasional soul song. The first 30 minutes of the set was more a jam session than anything else, as Yasiin would consult his two DJs as to which song to play next. The crowd ate it all up as they tried to keep up with the energetic Mos Def. Bey bounced across the stage effortlessly with a huge smile that didn't leave his face the entire night.
Later in the set, Bey decided to share brand-new tracks from his upcoming project with legendary producer Mannie Fresh. I've been following this project since it was first announced last year. The tracks that Yasiin showcased from the project featured heavy-hitting 808s coupled with smart lyrics. The new tracks certainly sound promising, and I'll be sure to check out the final project -- whenever that will be released.
After building anticipation by playing a bevy of lesser-known songs, Mos Def finished off his set with what the crowd was waiting for his hit singles. Starting off with "Hip Hop", Mos Def garnered an immediate reaction from the crowd who were eagerly awaiting the track. Def then decided to hit the crowd with an extended version of "Ms. Fat Booty," a rendition that featured the original sample segueing into Mos Def's version. This being one of his biggest hits, the crowd sang along to every word.
Surprisingly, Mos Def followed that one of my personal favorites "The Boogie Man." This lesser-known track is the opening number on Mos Def's The New Danger (2004). While this album wasn't considered to be that great -- commercially at least -- it features a few gems that could be considered to be some of Mos Def's best work. Coming from the same album was "The Panties", which famously samples Tom Brock's "I Love You More and More."
"Umi Says" wound up being the peak of the performance, as the universally loved song rang through the speakers in unison with the audience singing along to Mos Def's heartfelt voice. Mos closed his set with "Memories," a fantastic song from his work with DJ Honda. Mos Def then hit crowd with another rather impressive dance number and a round of "thank yous."
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All in all, Mos Def brought one of the most unique hip-hop sets I have ever seen. By forgoing a lot of the typical hip-hop performing tricks, Mos Def relied on improvised dance moves, a warm, inviting personality, and a mostly on-the-fly set. The audience seemed to love every minute of it, as the Brooklyn MC could do no wrong in their eyes.
My only gripe is that the largely improvised first half of his set could have been cut a little shorter to make way for more of his hits. I was hoping to hear his verse from the Nate Dogg-assisted "Oh No" or maybe a verse from "Close Edge", which is one of his most popular songs. This certainly wasn't a deal-breaker for me -- I was like a kid in the candy store, completely impressed with his performance and wanting more. With Mos Def embarking on this tour, I am hoping that it will lead to him releasing some more of the great music that we have been waiting so long for.