By Joe Boyd, Second year Politics and Sociology
'A generous mixture of old favourites, interesting covers and more experimental new tracks made the gig an engaging masterpiece from start to finish', Joe Boyd Reviews.
The Brooklyn native first graced the stage as part of the hip-hop trio Urban Thermo Dynamics (UTD) in 1994, before emerging as a solo artist under the alias Mos Def two years later. After gaining critical acclaim with hits such as: 'Auditorium', 'Ms Fat Booty' and 'Mathematics', the rapper turned actor has featured in lead roles in hit films such as the 2003 rendition of ‘The Italian Job’ and ‘The Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy’, then going on to release his most successful album ‘The Ecstatic’ in 2009. Since legally changing his name to Yasiin Bey in 2011, Mos Def demonstrated his ability to a packed O2 Academy that he is still able to captivate an audience with some of the most unique beats and stage presence in hip-hop.
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Yasiin Bey @o2academybris #bristol 17.04.2019 @yasiinbey #yasiinbey #mosdef #live #o2academybristol @academymusicgroup #academymusicgroup @academyevents #academyevents @o2music #o2music @o2uk #o2uk Photography Martin Thompson @martinthompsonphotography @thefacecollective @martinthompsonlive
With the last support act ‘Sip the Juice DJ’s’ decks being rolled off the stage at 21:30, the crowd were well aware what was about to happen. ‘O Trem Azul’ by Lô Borges begun playing and moments later Yasiin slowly crosses the stage where he places his bag down and begins to spray paint ‘oyster’ across a white sheet draped in front of the decks. Not wasting any time, he opened the set by shouting ‘Bristol What’s Up?’ while the beat dropped for a fan favourite, Auditorium.
The performance lived up to the energetic yet melancholic nature of the song. Addressing the socio-political implications of the American military occupation of Iraq at the start of the 21st century on top of the perfect Madlib beat. Madlib layers pitched down samples of Indian heavyweight’s S. P. Balasubrahmanyam and Lata Mangeshkar with wavering synth tones to create a beat that is renowned as one of his best. After the hook Yasiin got the crowd to recreate this historic beat while he steadily tapped the mic before letting Slick Rick’s verse play on the vinyl. The whole time Yasiin danced around the stage with effortless confidence cutting extravagant shapes in an unquestionably cool fashion, everyone’s eyes were stuck on him the entire time. The song came to a close with the crowd shouting “what it is” back at Yasiin every time he said “you, know, they know”. As the beat ran out Yasiin started covering the stage in rose petals as he continued to prance around, an incredible start to what went on to be an incredible gig.
After introducing himself properly and a few more tracks from The Ecstatic and Black on Both Sides he cut the music for a second to play the Portuguese record ‘Tudo Que Você Podia Ser’ by Milton Nascimento telling the audience to “take this moment to just vibe”. Yasiin then proceeded to spin around, what must have been at least 30 times on the spot coming out seemingly unphased to continue his interpretive dancing around the stage before freestyling over the end of the song. While this probably was not what the audience were expecting from a Mos Def gig the entire performance was extremely animated and captivating.
The quirks of the performance did not end there, with Yasiin taking breaks between tracks to perform poetry interludes to a mostly silent attentive crowd. The first addressing the issues of gun violence before smoothly transitioning into a cover of C.R.E.A.M.’s ‘El Michels Affair’. The second talking about forgiveness before dropping into some new material, which he proclaimed “some people don’t understand” before continuing to shatter more petals and navigating the stage vibrantly. While it was clear that a proportion of the crowd weren’t here for this, the majority listened fixatedly. As the set began to come to a close, he dropped another crowd favourite ‘Ms Fat Booty’. The familiar sounds of the samples of Aretha Franklin’s ‘One Step Ahead’ sent the crowd into the same ecstatic state that the opening track did. Yasiin followed with another cover, this time of ‘Fall in Love’ by Slum Village keeping the energy alive before saying his final farewells and walking out to the sound of Yemane Barya’s ‘Kemey Aleki’ left playing with some people begin to scarper for an easy exit, the committed stayed dancing, using their new found space till the vinyl came to an end.
Yasiin Bey did not disappoint, while it was evident that a fair amount of people only went for the one or two songs they knew, the overall atmosphere was that of excitement. Playing a generous mixture of old favourites, interesting covers and more experimental new tracks made the gig an engaging masterpiece from start to finish. His continued innovative stage presence throughout made it feel more a complete art piece than a gig. Some of the most unique beats in hip-hop and characteristically razor-sharp lyricism were to be expect from a hip-hop giant like Mos Def and Yasiin delivered. The influence he has had on current trends in hip-hop and why the likes of Loyle Carner hail him as one of their greatest inspirations became even more evident when seeing him perform.
Featured Image: Yasiin Bey/ Lj_Ramsey Photography
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