Mos Def - Black On Both Sides 15th Anniversary
Friday 21st November
O2 Academy Leeds
Hip-hop culture has been around for 41 years, Dante Smith has been rapping for nearly half of that. His first solo album under the name Mos Def, Black on Both Sides, was released in 1994. 15 years later, he came to the O2 Academy in Leeds to celebrate the anniversary with a ‘full album performance’ tour of his debut.
I made the decision to get down early to catch the support acts. It’s very rare an artist of this notoriety comes and I was sure he would bring with him great things. When I arrived, Dan Hills was warming the crowd up with some hip hop classics, looking back at of the best tunes in Hip Hop. Before Mos Def came on stage, I was treated to Zulu Nation’s Allstars, headed up by the legendary Afrika Bambaataa. Zulu Nation provided me with the opportunity to see things I had never seen before. It’s pretty hard to come across a rapper with dwarfism performing alongside two men who, in their 50s, still have it. It was great to see such a variation of people participating in hip-hop.
Up next was Abstract Orchestra, a Big Band with over 20 people, including a drummer, two rappers, a drum machine and female vocalist. These world class musicians performed hip-hop instrumentals in a way I’ve never heard before. The trumpet and saxophone sections were phenomenal. A particular highlight was a Jay Electronica beat that, after being played on a sampler, suddenly erupted into the full Band, bringing the track to life.
Finally after a fantastic warm up, it was Mos Def’s turn to take the stage. Those expecting a straight run through of his first album beginning to end were to be sadly disappointed. As instead of performing under Mos Def, the signature of his new aka, ‘Yasiin Bey’ illuminated the back screen. Donning a shawl under a fedora, Dante Smith emerged in a long sleeved jumper with calf length trousers, and lace up boots. With the stage, drowned in red light, he began spreading red petals along the ground. There was a tension in the air, with the audience unsure of what Yasiin was going to do next.
This tension was only to be eased as the crowd were treated with the album opener ‘Hip Hop’ and ‘Mathematics’, produced by DJ Premier. Just as the crowd were settling into the set, Yasiin took a 180 degree turn. Instead of a full album run-through, Bey performed tracks from his most recent album “The Ecstatic”. Highlights included ‘Supermagic’ and ‘Auditorium’. In between the performance of his greatest hits Yasiin spent a large majority of his set dancing to African and other world music he’d seemed to dig out of his old record collection. While it reminded me somewhat of a DJ set, it was these more confusing moments the audience stood still. This came as a shock. Either they didn’t like what Yasiin was doing, didn't get it, or simply didn’t know what to do.
With such an eclectic mix, it was clear that Yasiin Bey was trying to do something different within the night. Those expecting a run through of his debut may have perhaps befitted going back home and revisiting the album. However, those who went to see a forward thinking artist who’s looking to the future of Hip Hop, were in the right place. Overall a great performance from Yasiin and a great insight into perhaps what’s to come.
Review by Stephen Daniels
Images courtesy of Ben Gwynne