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


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 Café, 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.