Yasiin Bey, formerly/commonly known as Mos Def, is an elusive artist who’s respected by his peers and adored by fans, despite his hidden lifestyle. Nonetheless, the rapper made his name following the release of his debut album Black on Both Sides in 1999 which eventually led to fans calling Mos hip hop’s new conscious star. The early ’00s saw Yasiin become a household name with a budding acting career and more stellar music projects under his belt. However, with label issues, hiatuses that saw him run away to South Africa, before eventually being expelled from there, as well as, a number of planned albums that never materialised. However, Bey’s abilities and stardom have never diminished and for this reason many fans, myself included, were excited to see the Brooklyn-rapper return to a London stage. Especially alongside the Grammy-winning jazz group, Robert Glasper, who for over a decade have produced some of the most authentic jazz, rap & R&B music.
Photo credit: Troxy
Watching Bey and Robert Glasper hit the stage helped answer exactly where Bey’s mindset is at musically, he’s bohemian and revels in being allowed to be free to showcase the many talents he was birthed with. Opening the show with Robert Glasper Experiment’s album title track “Black Radio” that features Yasiin felt more like a pop star performance, not a rapper’s. He gripped an Elvis Microphone with no mic stand, had a stage light drape him from head to toe and strutted around the stage like a Michael Jackson at his peak. And this popstar-esque performance was consistent throughout the show. He sang the beautiful “Umi Says” with British-singer Lola Mvula where prior to this he asked fans to put their phones away and “to be here” and beautifully, they did. A rap-sung performance of”Auditorium” off of his latest album The Ecstatic with fans singing back the catchy hook “what it is”.
Photo credit: Troxy
Yasiin exercised his vocal ability singing a jazzy version of BBD’s “Poison” that followed the funky Soho track “Hot Music”. His preference of performing covers of classic rap songs in place of his own, like De La Soul’s legendary song “Stakes is High” or Slum Village’s “Thelonious” was intriguing but enjoyed. Especially as he didn’t perform some of his most notable songs like “Mathematics” or “Ms Fat Booty”; which can only suggest these are songs he doesn’t enjoy performing but equally are songs he doesn’t want his career to be defined by. But Bey’s rockstar performance worked well as Robert Glasper perfectly complemented his style with their jazzy riffs and funky breaks with the highlight being the guitarist playing the O’Jays “For the Love of Money” that got all the Troxy-native grooving.
Being a big Bey fan, I was happy I got to see the enigmatic artist live and whilst he is still able to dominate the stage and be completely in control. Whilst, I enjoyed his freedom I would’ve loved to hear more of what made him the adored rapper he is today and that is him rapping. Similarly, it would’ve been more of an experience had Robert Glasper been able to perform more of their music and show their arsenal to fans. But it seems Bey is, in actual fact, coming to the close of his music career and in doing so, wants his last days on stage to be his most fun and to be honest, I don’t blame him.