My personal introduction to Yasiin was on the classic “Stakes is High” album by De La Soul in 1996, which was a scathing attack on the current state of hip-hop at the time. Ironically, this was only the beginning really of the Jiggy era, and Mos Def rose through the industry at a time when the glossy bling bling materialistic rap music of the day was being run by Puff Daddy and friends. The jiggy era was not the most imaginative musically, and was built often on samples from classic 80s soul, rap and pop, but Mos Def himself took a very different approach to his love of the music that shaped his youth.
He was quick to pay homage to the great rappers of the day and the first 10 years of his career were almost like a love letter to the likes of KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, Rakim and others. Some of these greats were still operating in the Mos Def era, but hip-hop moves fast, and it was refreshing to see the appreciation the young Brooklyn MC had for the era that preceded him. At the time, this return to the roots and original values of the music made it stand out even more. Mos Def could easily rhyme of the dome too, and he was skilful enough on the mic to be able to hold court with anyone, so it’s no suprise that he sounded like someone who could have moved well in any musical era.
On the stage he’s always been a great performer. I’ve seen him twice in Ireland, and I’m eagerly awaited his first visit to Cork. The jazz festival should provide a perfect platform for his talents, and there’s a huge buzz about his shows. Many of his fans here grew up on the hip-hop that sampled the jazz that they later embraced, and Yasiin Bey could easily be considered a jazz artist in his own right. His microphone ability is on a par with pretty much any living rapper, and lyrically he has always been one of the most thoughtful MCs in the rap game.
Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) Big Band plus Hypnotic Brass Ensemble perform Cork Opera House on Monday, October 25.