By Ethan Speding
Despite a three month delay, confusing cancellations, and in the end not even witnessing the full line up promised, spirits were predominately high at The O2 Forum in Kentish Town on Friday evening. Behind the numerous layers everyone had put on to battle the cold weather, there was a definite underlying tone of excitement and disbelief; Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def was to grace the stage tonight in London for the very last time before retirement. For those unaware, Yasiin’s music career has stretched twenty three years, and there’s no doubt that he’s had influence on any Hip-Hop track you’ve listened to.
Something that isn’t seen much nowadays at music events but was ever present this evening was the diversity of the crowd in both age and culture. It was a delight to see so many differing people come together in unison to celebrate the works of one of the greatest MC’s to be placed on this earth.
Once let in at around quarter past eight, the two hundred or so people in the queue dispersed to the bathrooms, bar and cloak room accordingly whilst Boba Fatt warmed up the crowd with a mix taking us through the eras of Hip-Hop. But it was the second verse of ‘We The People’ from A Tribe Called Quest’s most recent album ‘We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service’ which received the greatest response from the crowd so far, still paying their respects to the late great Phife Dawg.
At nine o clock the second warm up act arrived on stage in the form of Lazy Habits, an eight piece UK Hip-Hop band mixing drums, bass, and jazz, topped by an MC with a dangerous flow. For the next forty minutes I witnessed an electric live performance from all members, special shouts to the trumpet player using it as a guitar at times. For their final two songs they brought out the always impressive Reeps One to showcase why he’s considered one of the top beatboxers in the world. Although this being a Hip-Hop event, and typically beatboxers replicate Hip-Hop rhythms, Reeps One takes his influence from electronic music, and so laid down a scintillating dubstep beat for the crowd to all look like they just munched on a lemon.
Give Lazy Habits a listen, let us know what you think!
Ten o clock in the evening, fifteen minutes after scheduled and Yasiin was nowhere to be seen. A young Mancunian rapper who wasn’t on the original line up (was unable to catch the name) steps on stage, and for the following half hour utilised his moment to keep the crowd engaged.
Boba Fatt returned to the decks afterwards whilst the stage was set. The lights dimmed, and four huge bags of balloons were opened to fill up the stage. Roses were also brought out and covered the platform where the DJ’s decks were. Quarter past eleven, and it’s go time.
‘A Love Supreme Part 1: Acknowledgement’ by John Coltrane plays, and out comes the man we’ve been waiting to see since October. Petals are picked out of a bag and thrown around the stage, ladies and gentlemen Yasiin Bey has arrived. The free jazz style adopted in the track mirrored the artist’s movements, jumping and skipping around the stage just as uninhibited as Coltrane’s sax solo. “A Love Supreme” is slowly chanted by Yasiin as he inhales the energy and lets the music flow through him. A roar of applause follows but there’s no time for stopping; he has his whole discography to choose from and perform, so he swiftly advances and asks the DJ to drop a first beat.
The unplanned set opens with ‘Cream Of The Planet’. A colossal reaction from the audience is responded to with a humble thanks for being there. A short childhood story mentions how a young Yasiin used to read the British lifestyle and culture magazine ‘The Face’ and how he aspired to be as famous as those mentioned in it one day… “look at me now” he says.
The instrumental to ‘Auditorium’ drops and a competition begins to see who in the crowd can bop their head harder; Slick Rick’s verse gaining just as much appreciation. After performing a couple more songs off of the album ‘The Ecstatic’, as well as a fan favourite ‘Mathematics’, the rapping stops. Similar to at the start, ‘Moment of Truth’ by Earth, Wind & Fire is played allowing Yasiin to again roam around, letting the melody dictate his actions, portraying his ever lasting passion for music.
After two exuberant performances of ‘Ghetto Rock’ and ‘Wahid’, someone in the crowd thought it would be wise to throw something on stage. The artist stopped rapping to speak on the matter, and decided to use it as a reminder to us that, especially in today’s day and age, we must all be united and that there should be no difference between us. A political statement from a political rapper. Quickly dismissing this, the audience was then welcomed with the noticeable sound of the Kanye West produced ‘Brown Sugar (Fine)’.
So now we had heard renditions of some Mos Def classics, we were treated even further when Yasiin shared an accapella version of one of his new tracks; very reminiscent of the Def Jam Poetry days (I highly recommended you check them out). Following the spoken verse, Yasiin then turned to the crowd to give an amusing yet appropriate quote which I won’t forget anytime soon: “Everybody’s a tough guy till they gotta pee.” The first laughs in the crowd were heard and before we knew it the DJ proceeded to drop a ‘modern day’, bass heavy rap beat that the audience weren’t familiar with. That’s because this was also a new release, titled ‘Spider-Man‘.
Heading towards the final three songs of the show, and the heavy kicks in the Aretha Franklin sampled ‘Ms. Fat Booty’ accompanied by the mystical flute in ‘Sex, Love & Money’ brought everyone in the room back to a classic Hip-Hop mood. When announced that his last track was upon us, it was a moment that’ll Mos Def-initely (had to be put in there at some point) turn out to be one of the best I was going to experience. Alas the end was nigh and what more fitting for a final song to perform than ‘Umi Says’ – the eighth track off the outstanding 1999 album ‘Black on Both Sides’. The opening two lines of the track alone define what this evening was all about: “I don’t wanna write this down, I wanna tell you how I feel right now.” The audience took no hesitation in joining in for what was a truly historical moment for all involved.
Then the lyrics stopped, and the cheering began. Whistles and applauds flew around the venue and Yasiin gracefully thanked all of us again before waving one final goodbye, and exiting stage. A spectacular show start to finish, and as the final seconds of the Umi Says instrumental are played out we were brought back to reality.
In closing, the evening topped all expectations. You could tell every song was performed from Yasiin’s heart , and for the vast majority of the crowd it was a night that will be remembered for life. However there was a number of people in the crowd who thought otherwise. If you listen to the video recording of ‘Spider-Man’ earlier, you’ll notice that before he restarts the track, boos can be heard from the audience. This happened on numerous occasions, so much so to the point Yasiin had to ask: “Why are you booing me? I don’t get it.”. There also happened to be a strangely large amount of people mid-conversation in between each song, ignoring the man on stage. Understandably people may have been annoyed because of the lack of communication and clarity from the promoters, and the fact this was meant to go down in October last year (but due to reasons couldn’t). And whilst it was planned that The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble would originally accompany Yasiin, they were unable to make the rescheduled dates. However I’m not going to dwell on the matter deeply as this isn’t supposed to be a rant, but the reaction of some in the crowd ‘didn’t fit in’ for a final performance of a musical legend. What has to be considered is that most rappers today wouldn’t be using the rhyme schemes or flows they do, and wouldn’t be rapping about the things they are, if it wasn’t for the influence of people like Mos Def.
If you made it this far then big up, be sure to keep an eye out for more reviews and other articles that will be up on here over the future!