I was introduced to Mos Def via a mixtape I bought from the University of Chicago’s campus. If I remember right it was mid to late ’90s. That means it was an actual tape with a mix on it. The name of the song was “Universal Magnetic.” What I remember most was how dope and contemporary this brother sounded while using early styles of rap. Then I realized that he was the same rapper I heard on “Big Brother Beat” off De La Soul’s Stakes Is High album. By the time Blackstar — the hip-hop duo consisting of Talib Kweli and Mos Def — was released I was a fan. The release of the classic album Black On Both Sides cemented my loyalty.
Fast-forward almost 15 years and I find myself being reintroduced to the same emcee, except now he has grown as an artist and his world views are defined and actionable, and he changed his name. Yasiin Bey, formerly Mos Def, released The Ecstatic in 2009. Bey is a more refined and eclectic artist. It is evident that his musical palate has developed as he weaves his way to many of the world’s rhythms, from James Brown to Fela Kuti. The Ecstatic as a full project touches on this.
I had the good fortune to see Bey perform at The Metro Chicago recently and it was an amazing show. Bey stepped onto the stage with a bag full of rose petals tossing them on the stage a la Coming to America. He wore his TMT hat (by the time you read this Floyd Mayweather is 48-0) and an overcoat while his DJ/brother Abdul played a soulful selection in the background. Bey started ripping into the music with no regard, then transitions seamlessly into his verse from “Lord Lord” a single promoted by Kanye during his Good Friday series.
Bey has matured as an artist and exhibits a strong sense of freedom in his performance. At one point during the show Bey addressed a fan in the crowd who kept screaming that he wanted to hear “Umi Says” one of Bey’s most popular songs. Bey, slightly annoyed, lets the fan know that he hears him and at this point in his career he does what he wants. With that, he blesses the crowd with more songs from The Ecstatic.
Once he does what he wants he gives the crowd what they want and that’s “Umi Says” and closes the set out with “Traveling Man” Yasiin Bey represents the evolution of hip-hop and what it can be when one embraces the sounds and the spirit of the world. I like what I hear.
Eddy Lamarre aka Precise is a hip-hop artist-writer-actor from Chicago. The Chicago Reader recognized “Ladies Love Mixtapes” his latest release as one of the best projects of 2014. Listen/Buy Ladies Love Mixtapes at: https://precise.bandcamp.com/album/ladies-love-mixtapes-the-ep