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30th January 2019

Preview: Yasiin Bey (Mos Def)

The O2 Ritz will host renowned rapper Yasiin Bey to perform, in full, his acclaimed album ‘The Ecstatic’ writes Ashwin Tharoor
Preview: Yasiin Bey (Mos Def)
Photo: Authorised Press Shot

After rescheduling his UK dates due to “adverse weather conditions”, Rapper Yasiin Bey is finally able to return to the UK for a short, three date tour stopping off at Manchester’s O2 Ritz on the 16th April. He’s reviving his former stage name as the show has been billed as ‘Yasiin Bey performs Mos Def’. The Brooklyn native rose to fame in the late 90s with the highly rated albums Blackstar (a collaboration with Talib Kweli) and Black on Both Sides. Both albums touched heavily on ideas of black identity and experience in America and did so with immaculate and enamoring production.

Wherever he goes Yasiin Bey consistently draws large crowds. The impact and appeal of his work in the hip-hop world has cemented his status as one of the greatest living MCs.

Bey also used to work considerably as an actor but has had few roles in recent years. In 2016 he announced his retirement from both the film and music industries, stating “I’m releasing my final album this year, and that’s that.” Later that year he put out December 99th for free online but it was criticised for being far below the standard of previous works. At that time, he even promised two more albums but they have failed to materialise. It seems he’s definitely not retired from the industry altogether but whether he puts out new music is anyone’s guess.

10 years ago, Bey released his fourth album, the acclaimed The Ecstatic, and in honour of it, these three dates will see him performing the album in full. Considered his most sonically ambitious album, the production drew influence from music around the world containing the likes of Afrobeat, flamenco, Bollywood, and jazz, to name a few. The lyrics contain many references to pan-Islamic and black internationalist ideas often in the context of the late 2000s zeitgeist and War on Terror and certainly informed by his own Muslim faith.

Yasiin Bey’s work has almost always been called ‘conscious rap’ but the label is a bit flimsy as it suggests a greater value than other hip-hop. One thing is certain however is he deftly combines exciting sounds with insightful lyrics. Just given the strength of The Ecstatic, his show in Manchester will definitely be an event to remember.

Yasiin Bey plays O2 Ritz – 16th April, O2 Kentish Town (London) – 14th April, and O2 Academy Bristol – 17th April

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