Whether it be Pretty Flaco, Flaco Bey, Black Dante, Boogieman, Mos Def, or now Yasiin Bey, you know that you’re getting a live show that’s off the well worn path of your typical hip hop act. From the mood setting red lights, to the stage covered in rose petals, to his signature red microphone, one can expect a unique experience at a Yasiin Bey show. Recently at The Yost Theater in Santa Ana, CA, we were treated to such an experience that was genuinely as particular and uncommon as one would expect from the brilliant emcee.
When one makes an entrance sprinkling rose petals across the stage and specifically requests for ambient red lighting to be at a constant throughout the whole performance, you could easily conclude that some sort of intimate moment is on deck. Which technically was correct in Yasiin Bey’s case. Because as he did all this, he in effect set the mood and tone for a set that gave everyone in attendance a glimpse into who he really was – a man who is equal parts artistic genius and recluse that is as fiercely passionate about putting on an entertaining live performance as much he is about shunning photography.
“Peace peace peace. Let’s just keep the red lights like this, just leave it like this,” he requests from the theater’s lighting crew. “See I don’t trust the typical club lights – dark and shady, like it’s always trying to hide something. Those lights are deceiving. Let’s just keep the lights like it is. A red light special. Yeah, I want a red light special right now.”
Yasiin delved into a few cuts off his album, The Ecstatic, such as “Supermagic”, “Twilite Speedball”, “No Hay Nada Mas”, and “Quiet Dog Bite Hard”; the latter of which had him busting loose some with surprisingly spry and skilled steps that were a hybrid of house stepping and b-boy uprock. This was then followed by a next set of songs that he referred to as ‘chocolate cake’.
“See everything in life needs balance,” he offered. “You’ve got to have your nourishment – your vitamins, your minerals, your fruits and vegetables – because that’s what keeps you healthy. But sometimes, you just got to have your chocolate cake,” he continued, after which the beat from Drake’s “The Motto” suddenly came booming through the sound system. Yasiin then proceeded to rock his own set of rhymes over the beat, and did so with deft energy and finesse, to the point where having him on the original wouldn’t have been a bad idea at all. Continuing on with the sweet filler of his set was more of Mos firing off his own versions of “Niggas In Paris” and “Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit”, before lacing the crowd with that icing on said chocolate cake in the form of Biggie’s “Juicy” – an obvious homage to his Brooklyn roots.
The last half of the show had Yasiin performing some new cuts, with the notable being “Black Jesus”, an infectiously melodic tune that was a collaboration between him and Mannie Fresh. Yep, THAT Mannie Fresh. As the speakers blared the bombastic bass and had plenty rocking to the beat, we were reminded that Mannie still had it when it came to catchy and undeniable drum patterns. “Even though I may not say I’m putting out new stuff, or even though I’m not putting out new tracks all the time, don’t think I’m not working on new stuff all the time,” said Mos, obviously addressing any doubters in the crowd who may have long believed that he now prefers the acting spotlight over emceeing.
In closing, Mos Def got the crowd hyped with a few classics – “Mathematics”, “Universal Magnetic”, “Sex, Love, and Money”, “Traveling Man”, and finally, “Umi Says”. To many in attendance’s slight disappointment, “Ms. Fat Booty” was not performed, a track that Mos rarely includes in his live sets anymore. With that joint being arguably his most recognized hit, that bit of a downer was understood.
As he made his grand exit to Ponderosa Twins Plus One’s “Bound” – which many now recognize as the sample behind Kanye West’s “Bound 2” – Yasiin Bey threw flower petals at the crowd and shook hands with the front row, greeting everybody with the same peace and positivity that he’s known to preach in life as much as he does in music.
Photos by: Karen Capalaran