There’s something about Yasiin Bey’s demeanor that proves he didn’t let his childhood growing up in Brooklyn’s Rosevelt Projects die. It can be seen in his smile that sparkles when his dimples come out, and the way he ignores society’s unwritten rules on decorum and allows himself, a grown 43-year-old man-to simply play and be.
“F*ck looking cool,” Bey says to an audience who roars with laughter, cheers and applause in agreement.
Bey, formerly known as Mos Def and always beloved as Dante, performed a two-night gig at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater. After recently being detained in South Africa for attempting to leave using a world passport, Black Dante returned home to open arms. Opting for just his DJ alongside him on stage, Bey, graced fans with the breath control needed to spit fiery lyrics only bestowed to true lyricist. He opened his show the way he opens all his albums, with an Islamic prayer Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem, which means in the name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful.
On the first night of the performances, Bey was vocal about his pre-show jitters. “I won’t front like I’m not nervous, ‘cus I’m too old for that…and it doesn’t go with my wardrobe,” he said in jest. Outfitted in a paperboy hat, long sleeve tee, black leggings under green baggy shorts and black leather calf-high sneakers, Bey gripped his trademark red old-school mic and commenced to sing in that smiling man voice we love. To set the mood amid the warm Apollo lights, he walked the stage dropping red and white flower pedals all around in honor of every legend who performed on the stage before him, and those who will do the same after. Ripping through his well known jams, Bey seemed to reveal in the sound of his past vocals, which oddly enough mirror his live performance. The happy feet dance he shakes through, showed his general excitement for the jazzy tribal tunes from yesteryear.
Seemingly working through his set list on the fly, Bey had moments of awkward pause which he apologized to the audience for and asked for their patience. But it wasn’t the momentary silence that bugged out the people, it was the frequent emotional stanzas that happened between songs that drew Bey to tears at times, speaking on the hardships of his Southern origins and humble city life. His outlook on closing his musical career was as such, “I can appreciate entertainment, but I’m over it if it’s a place you can’t be earnest. I don’t always want to be dazzling. I just want to be.” Amid the feeling of this being the last hurrah, Bey made sure to let the crowd know that his past hits weren’t all he was showcasing. The last 30 minutes of the first show was dedicated to and album that’s yet to be released and what he dubbed, “…the best album I’ve ever done.” Titled Negus-Natural Persons, the project is an stripped down tribal balanced sonic experience.
On night two, having worked out the kinks from the night before, Bey was prepared. The set list was finalized and he offered fans a healthy dose of new music, all of which echo the troubling times of today with the charm and intellect Dante has so effortlessly intertwined into his music which has captured us all. If you were under the belief only one type of person is a fan of the artist formerly known as Mighty Mos Def, you’d be mistaken and shortsighted. His debut solo project, Black on Both Sides is almost 20 years old and those B-Boys and B-Girls are now grown men and women. The Apollo theater was packed with everyone from women in high heel and red lipstick, to the Wall Street guy who loosened up their ties once he got Uptown. Black, white, Latino, Asian, young, old and in between all came to witness one of Brooklyn’s most talented perform.
While the audience took to his new music, they reached peak hip-hop when Pharoahe Monch, a surprise guest graced the stage, and when Bey performed older tracks. Fans lost all composure and nearly burst from pure happiness as he closed out the show with his signature song “Umi Says.” The 1999 classic about wanting the best for black people, and being unafraid to let your own inner star power radiate the world, was the perfect send off from Bey. Despite him retiring from music, a loss too great to measure, he told fans everywhere never be afraid to be their true authentic selves as his career has proven he has done the same.