Jazzin' with Yasiin: Excitement ahead of a performance by one of the greats at Cork Jazz Festival this weekend 

This is a unique opportunity to witness Yasiin Bey at Guinness Cork Jazz Festival, says Stevie G in his Downtown colum 
Jazzin' with Yasiin: Excitement ahead of a performance by one of the greats at Cork Jazz Festival this weekend 

Yasiin Bey: Performs at Cork Opera House as part of the Cork Jazz Festival.

Yasiin Bey is in many ways the perfect artist in help relaunch the Guinness Cork jazz festival this weekend. A legend of hip-hop who’s legacy and integrity is still intact, he performs here in Cork at the Cork Opera House next Monday, backed by Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, who he’s performed with on numerous occasions. The tickets went so fast that an additional Sunday evening show was quickly added to Live at St Lukes, and this show is now sold out too.

Born, Dante Terrell Smith, Yasiin became known to the world as Mos Def, and he built a very impressive hip-hop career fro the mid 90s. Originally an actor in his youth, Yasiin later revived that side of his career too, and from the mid 2000’s he has appeared in loads of notable films and TV shows. The fans flocking to see him this weekend are gonna be there to see his music skills, and despite his decision to back away from the music industry in recent years, we should be in for a big treat when he steps on to the stage. He’s got an impressive musical catalogue and he is a terrific live performer, who will be accompanied jazz style by the Hypnotic boys this weekend.

Yasiin Bey: A great choice for Cork Jazz Festival.
Yasiin Bey: A great choice for Cork Jazz Festival.

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.

Many of Yasiin Bey’s fans here grew up on the hip-hop that sampled the jazz that they later embraced

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.

This first period of his rap career was very prolific, and Mos Def followed his classic Black Star collab album (with Talib Kweli) with his debut album proper in 1999. “Black on both Sides” remains to this day a powerful album that marries both joyous and hard hitting social observations on a wide variety of subjects to some amazing music, by a host of raps finest producers. It came at a time when many of raps finest minds were emphasising live instrumentation and it still stands up as one of the greatest albums of the last 30 years. Mos Def was very prolific in these years and lots of his best verses came on other records for other artists.

His following two albums were not that well received, at a time when his acting career was really taking off, but he returned with “The Ecstatic” at the end of the decade. This is another great album which found a freewheeling Mos Def reviving his career with arecord that is much more worldly in its outlook. Mos Def, soon to be Yasiin Bey, had grown increasingly disillusioned with the music industry, and music releases have been fairly sporadic in recent years. Interestingly his most recent album, Negus, was exclusively premiered at an art exhibition in Hong Hong, and it is at sound installations that it will be displayed rather than receiving a physical release. Yasiin Bey has also turned his hand to a lot of visual art recently, and painted some work for the Brooklyn installation of Negus.

Yasiin Bey: Performs in Cork this weekend.
Yasiin Bey: Performs in Cork this weekend.

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.

The fans flocking to see Yasiin Bey this weekend are gonna be there to see his music skills, and should be in for a big treat when he steps on to the stage

It is no suprise that Yasiin Bey never seemed to tolerate fools easily. He’s been outspoken on many issues in an era where many were afraid it might damage their record sales, but Yasiin Bey always walked the walk as well as talking the talk. He’s spoken out and acted on a number of issues, including police brutality, the murder conviction of Mumia Abu-Jamal and The Jena Six case, and he’s been a big supporter of marginalised people and communities in his music and artistic career.

This weekend we will have a unique opportunity to witness one of the greatest artists in hip-hop on stage in Cork City.

Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) Big Band plus Hypnotic Brass Ensemble perform Cork Opera House on Monday, October 25.

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