Rap and Hip-Hop
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Celebrating rapper and actor behind Black Star and Black On Both Sides
Even though a move into acting limited his output, Yasiin Bey (or the artist formerly known as Mos Def) still boasts a discography that shames most other rappers. In particular, his late 90s one-two punch of Black Star and Black On Both Sides remain two vital monuments to highly literate, compassionate, socially conscious rap.
The man born Dante Tyrell Smith Bey in New York in 1973 began rapping before he was even in double digits. Acting came soon after, including a role on the ill-fated Cosby Mysteries in 1994. That same year, Bey formed Urban Thermo Dynamics with his siblings. The latter part of the decade saw his career make a significant leap forward. In 1996, he made a prominent guest appearance on De La Soul’s Big Brother Beat, before scoring an underground hit with his debut solo single Universal Magnetic.
The success of Universal Magnetic led to a deal with fledgling label Rawkus Records. Bey set about recording a collaboration with fellow New Yorker and kindred spirit Talib Kweli and celebrated Chicago producer Hi-Tek. The result was 1998’s critically acclaimed Black Star, which marked Bey as a serious talent on the rise.
This was only cemented by Bey’s first solo album as Mos Def, 1999’s landmark, near-prophetic album Black On Both Sides, puncturing hip hop’s reputation for misogyny and violence, instead showing how the genre could be a vehicle for more vital messaging, without losing any of its visceral impact.
Seemingly on the brink of superstardom, Bey surprisingly moved away from music and began concentrating more on his acting career. He had notable roles in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, The Italian Job remake, Be Kind Rewind, alongside Kevin Bacon in the acclaimed drama The Woodsman, as Chuck Berry in Cadillac Records and as Ford Prefect in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
Bey still continued to release albums at the same time, attempting to reclaim rap/rock from the frat boy bands he despised with his project Black Jack Johnson. In 2004, he finally returned with a new solo record. While The New Danger failed to live up to the heights of Black On Both Sides, it still showcased Bey as a fearlessly ambitious artist, mixing the rap rock of Black Jack Johnson with marathon compositions studded with Marvin Gaye samples.
His third solo album, True Magic, found Bey curiously disengaged, reportedly rounding out contractual obligations. However, he was back on form with 2009’s The Ecstatic, which saw Bey reunited with Talib Kweli on the track History.
Following this, Bey popped up on other people’s records (notably A$AP Rocky and Gorillaz). Despite rumours of a Black Star reunion and hints at a new album, he remained relatively quiet on the music front up until 2021. In early 2021, Yasiin Bey announced a UK show at London’s O2 Forum Kentish Town in November to mark the anniversary of Black On Both Sides.
Yasiin Bey has announced a show at the O2 Forum Kentish Town to mark the anniversary of the Mos Def album Black On Both Sides.
Yasiin Bey tickets for his 2021 show at the O2 Kentish Town Forum are on sale now.
Yasiin Bey (previously known as Mos Def) is playing a special show in London on 16 November 2021.
Support for Yasiin Bey's Kentish Town Forum show comes from Voodoo Black and Jeru The Damaja.