Review: Yasiin Bey Performs classic Mos Def @ The O2 Forum Kentish Town

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The doors opened at 7:00pm for the retirement of one of the greatest Hip Hop artists of all time. On my way to the O2 Kentish Town, I encountered many friends asking where I was going; the same jaw dropped expression took their faces. Mos Def is that kind of artist for whom you cancel whatever plans you’ve made; to listen to him. The show was sold out online, but tickets appeared to be selling on the door, which was a shame for all those who didn’t click fast enough when the opportunity arose. Standing next to me at the front on my right were four beautiful ladies in hijabs, on my left was a sweet Caucasian couple, no older than 20 for sure, dancing and singing every word to the incredible music being played by the DJ, who was having his own little party on stage.

Generally the crowd was quite young, ranging around 17-25, which displayed how timeless his music is. Considering the emergence of Trap and other genres that either come from or hold stylistic similarities to Hip Hop, it was a pleasant surprise to know that the younger audiences still have an appreciation for what came before and how it has shaped what music is now.

The stage was set with balloons, fairy lights and a projection in which displayed an Apple prompt message of some sort in which Yasiin Bey commented on later in the night which showed his effortless state of chill. He was there to perform and it was as simple as that.

Bey appeared in a bucket hat, an oversized white long sleeved t-shirt with tribal prints, cropped harem pants and multi buckled boots – a look only he could pull off. In one hand he had this red vintage 1950’s microphone with no stand (GENIUS!!!) and the other was a bag full of rose petals, which he scattered across the stage, a reminiscence of the classic 1988 Eddie Murphy film ‘Coming To America’ image of the rose bearers, but was also an immediate reference to his song ‘Roses’ from his 2009 fourth studio album ‘The Ecstatic.’

‘You don’t have to, cut up no roses.

Please just leave them living’

It implied the death of a king or maybe even just blessing the stage with love, as it would be the last time he would be on it. A Latin mash up instrumental filled the room and Bey began to dance. He had this Afro House, Samba, and Dancehall mash up groove. One word: Soul. This man has so much soul. The kind illustrates perfectly the cultural connection between those styles and also how they all in some way shape or form make Hip Hop, which linked seamlessly into the repetition of the lyric “All over the world’, remixing the song  “Fear not of Man” from the

Black On Both Sides’ album (my personal favourite). If you know the song you will know prior to vocal, Mos Def has a speech that includes the line:

‘Me, you, everybody, we are Hip-Hop.

So Hip-Hop is goin where we goin.’

Again, at this present time, given current events, this is exactly what the world needs. Bey’s message of equality is just as valid in 2017 as it was in 1999.

Bey has this smooth sense of coolness, even at the age of 43. His spirit was just as young as the couple standing next to me. As the night continued it became clear that he didn’t have a set list!!! This not only added humour, but just exemplified how much of a veteran he is. Can you imagine any of the artists that we love today performing without a rehearsed set or elaborate staging of some sort? Yes, these things are incredible, but Bey showed that the importance is within the music. Sure it took a little extra time (his DJ often looking incredibly perplexed and nervous), but it was worth the wait.

His apologies came with a bit of stand up too, as audience members requested tracks to which his response was:

“What, do I look like a jukebox?!!! Look at how I am dressed? Do you think I just take requests being shouted at me?”

There came a whirlwind of acapella freestyles. The thing that I’ve always loved about Mos Def, is that his flow is almost impossible to duplicate. No matter how many times you can listen to his tracks (no matter how much of a hip hop head you are!). You will probably find that trying to rap or sing along to all of his lyrics is virtually impossible. Therefore, it was so satisfying watching him perform and just hearing his unbelievably unique self-expression balanced with a humble and loving energy for people. His performance of “Umi Says” particularly emitted this; his repetition of the lyric “my people” (to be free), in which on the original track he sings “my people, black people”. He stopped to say:

“I mean everyone in this room, no matter where you’re from.”

Pleasant surprises included performances of ‘Pretty Dancer’, being a professional Dancer myself; was definitely a beautiful internal celebration in terms of song choice; considering he has   3 albums worth of tracks to choose from, this was amazing. The crowd sung at the top of their lungs: ‘Fly like a dove, from up above’, which was exactly what he and his words were doing on stage.

Sex, Love and Money provided a nice club vibe that most wouldn’t necessarily think of when Mos Def comes to mind, but it was a nice reminder of the range of hits he has, that speak in many different ways.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years”

He could continue for another 30 and still blow us all away.

What would have made the night better? To be honest it was nothing short of perfect but for the sake of being critical, seeing him at a venue like Jazz Cafe, which is slightly more intimate, would have been the icing on the cake. Although the calibre of an artist such as Mos Def teamed with the fact that it was his last show in London would indeed warrant a bigger venue, allowing as many avid fans as possible to experience the last opportunity to see an incredible show, I somehow left wanting more interaction and less distance.

Also one thing that was on all our minds was Blackstar. WE WANT A BLACKSTAR REUNION SHOW!!! There need not be an explanation. He went out in the most glorious of fashions. One that anyone who went that night will never forget. Yasiin Bey proved that the immortal Mos Def created music that can only be defined as Classic.

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Valerie Ebuwa

Valerie "wing girl" Ebuwa is a freelance dance artist and yoga teacher from East London. She is currently dancing for 3 contemporary dance companies and is one of the founding members of Eclectics Dance and CEO of Hip Hop House.

About Valerie Ebuwa

Valerie "wing girl" Ebuwa is a freelance dance artist and yoga teacher from East London. She is currently dancing for 3 contemporary dance companies and is one of the founding members of Eclectics Dance and CEO of Hip Hop House.