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Event Review: Yasiin Bey, “performing the classic Mos Def”, once again, Mos Def never turned up.

In Hip Hop by Elliott Nielson

Event Review: Yasiin Bey, “performing the classic Mos Def”, once again, Mos Def never turned up

At the Bristol O2 Academy on Saturday night Hip-Hop fans from all over the West Country dove into the city centre venue to witness what may be the very last time the hip-hop legend  Yasiin Bey came to town. 

The rapper cancelled shows in late October last year, due to passport issues. So, as fans saw him successfully playing London and Manchester during the week, they had no choice to witness what was an admirable display by one of the most vocally-talented rappers in music’s history.

Fans of the man himself and his artistry seemed to enjoy the vibrant show but the advertisement of the show really did give the impression Mos Def’s Black On Both Sides. His huge record from ’99, would be the majority of the performance. This ‘Bukka Bukka’ attitude brought a crowd that you could sense desired a heavy Hip-Hop beat.

DJs Jim Sharp & Mirko Machine opened the stage and were filling the gaps with just that. Their b2b set was a turntablist dream with funky rhythms and soulful classics being played through until the support act came on.  

The highly praised Manchester pair, Children of Zeus only started to emerge this time last year. But managed to land the support slot and brought their perfect blend of Hip-Hop and Soul. Their musical ethos perfectly aligning with Yasiin’s hard edged raps and soulful serenades over hip hop beats.

The tunes they selected for the gig very much played more on the soul of Tyler Dayley’s voice which soothed the crowd’s itch for that ‘bukka bukka’.

The stage

Many of the crowd, although apparently disappointed, admitted how good Tyler’s voice comes through. The mics weren’t exceptionally brilliant at delivering every word so for the start of the show his voice was all that was heard albeit his words being abstract. This meant Konny Kon began to force his bars a little over the jazzy breaks and his delivery wasn’t always impressive.

Yet on Crown, his verse came in strong. The uplifting soul sample gave a transcendence to the bars, and Konny’s quirky bar about the pain from stepping on a Lego brick proved the strength in his words were heard. The two weren’t received by the crowd as they would have liked, a woman behind me saying they lacked energy. In my opinion they didn’t hold back from the front of the stage and made their best attempts to get a crowd reaction.

Their approach to supporting such a big act so early in their career was impressive. If anything let them down it was their own chemistry that didn’t come across strongly.  

The vibe they left with was exactly what Mos Def seemed to pick up. Excuse me; Yasiin Bey came on to a stage filled with black and orange balloons and wore a long white t-shirt. Greeted with great cheers he didn’t appear to react, but merely took to the stage to perform rather than greet an audience he’ll never meet again.

The pacifist

Looking more pacifist than activist, he entered the stage dropping petals from both hands as he walked.  And before any music could begin the lights were changed to purple and a warm orange; the bright spot lights creating an atmosphere of centricity he made calmly clear he didn’t want or expressed “we didn’t need”.

He then took us through his sensational variety of musical talents. Now post-Drake such things as ‘singer-rappers’ are everywhere, many thinking Drake’s hand was very much involved in this, no.

 Yassin Bey is the eclectic example of a rapper with a wide vocal arsenal. His flexible vocal capability allows him to sing soul verses with such power and then, with reggae spirit can pull off a few mic toasts so casually. The MC within him has experienced and learnt so much over his career it’s plain to see when he just lays it all out for, like a musical Yasiin buffet. It was a bit staggering how an MC still lived within this man who came out with a pouch full of petals.

Although his presence seemed to sway with the retiring melancholy of it all, he could still ground it for heavy songs ‘Hip Hop’ and the classic ‘Mathematics’.  His love for the classics still shone through as he side stepped, and held the warm smile track to track. Yet this calmness and apparent ‘oneness’ meant Mos Def wasn’t performing, he is and will forever be Yasiin Bey.

Yasiin Bey

If you entered the room the moment he performed ‘Love’, you could have been watching Mos. The rhyming dexterity, the hopping over the beat with quick wit, it never left nor does his delivery cease to give you something you can twist your neck to.  

Moving about the stage freely and at one point placing his head on the monitor so far off centre stage, he felt distant. He was someone very much in tune with his music no doubt.

And when delivering jazzy ‘Umi Says’ one must be. A song about loving oneself, he was still ‘shining his light’ on the world. The man performed as a jazz virtuoso, improvising with the lyrics and over the breakdowns taking the performance to the legendary echelon of live performances I’d seen. It didn’t leave everybody satisfied, one guy sat out at the bar admittedly positive about his talent but mourning the £30, that “wasn’t worth it”.

The jazz breakdowns where he was just engulfed in the music, didn’t give the bukka bukka seekers what they wanted.

Yet I see why it’s needed. The show is about music, not just about him as an icon; the audience has no choice to soak in the true essence of the artist’s tranquil message. Mos Def was an icon, Yasiin is a man, an extremely talented and exuberant man, who is now into the purple-lit stage of his career.

It gives the impression and I hope; this man will forever live on, in the music, with that happy smile until the end.