With the recent news that Mos Def might be in the thralls of retirement, I thought it would be appropriate to give a tribute to my favorite artist of all time: Mos Def (AKA Yasiin Bey). This is my most personal post because I grew up with Mos Def; I got to see the tail end of his career, but I was always obsessed with how much talent he had. He was not just a rapper, he was an all around musician; able to sing, dance, and make you feel like you had a purpose on this earth. This was done with several artists, but I remember clearly spending late nights up as a kid trying to learn his wordplay. Sometimes his songs had such a deep effect on me that I didn’t care at that time if it was “lyrical” or not – what mattered was how he said these words and how they made me feel.
2011 I believe it was when I got the opportunity to see Mos Def with a very good friend of mine live and it was one of the most magnificent concerts I ever saw at the time, not only because he was performing, but because it was also the first concert I ever went to. I didn’t know what to expect that night, Bad Rabbits were set to be the act before him and when the lead singer came out, I thought it was the Black Dante himself. When Mos Def finally did arrive, however, it was unreal; he had his red microphone on full display and from that day onward I knew what it was to be a true emcee, and an overall musician. Whatever he did or say, the crowd would react in a wild manner, as if blessings were being received with every contortion of the lip. He danced, swayed, and had this magic about him like no other, it was quite the sight to see.
Of course, a crazed fan such as myself would wish that he continued to produce wonderful music for the next 40 years, but all artists have an expiration date. I was never that big on sports growing up, but to me this is like losing a Kobe Bryant to the game; Mos Def meant everything to me. I’m not sure of his plans for the future, but if I could write a letter to him personally, I would pray that his journey continues to be safe, and to never lose that talented soul of his.
My Umi says shine your light on the world, shine your light for the world to see..
Without a doubt the one Mos Def song I could never get tired of no matter how many days it might spend on replay. You think of what it means to right a beautiful piece of work and the effort it must take, and thus greatness such as this gets born. “My Umi says shine your light on the world, shine your light for the world to see..” gets me every single time I hear it. I feel empowered when I here this song – not just hope for me but for my people, and all the individuals that inhabit this Earth. Raw and innovative, I could appreciate the simple yet effect music video that came along with it. Mos Def has never been afraid to tell you how he feels, whether it be injustices that Guantanamo detainees face to prejudices face as a Muslim, his tongue will never settle.
Much of my time has been spent by my lonesome, where I was completely down on my luck. The one thing that would save me would be him saying “Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a partner/ Sometimes I feel like my only friend is the city I live in/ Its beautiful BOSTON/ long as I live here, believe I’m gon fly”. Of course I had to add Boston, just out of love for my city, but it doesn’t erase the sentiments that are shared in this song. Sometimes it truly feels like you only have the city you live in; as if these archaic backdrops of life know us best.
But Mos Def is the unsuspecting type, he completely had the beat broken down into 3 sections of pure bars. The last being an ode to Biggie because what good is a track about New York without that, right? I can definitely say this is one of his hardest joints dedicated to his hometown created.
Endless hours spent studying this song alone, and I’m not ashamed! It may come off as a basic joint with a plain beat, and basic lyricism, but I always saw it as more. For instance, take in to account everything being done to the beat; the highs and lows, horns and hi hats, it’s like an entire orchestra just for one song. To top that off, the way Mos says the words are the best part – especially with them coming out to you on the screen. It was such a simple concept, yet only Mos Def could make it seem as real as it did. How many of your favorites can do a video with them just speaking into the camera and it still be this dope? Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
Mos at his most godly, I can attribute a million and one things to this song. As a younger child, Mos truly made me feel like a rockstar. I didn’t adopt the black punk scene until my later teens, but this definitely pioneered that path. And when I think of ghetto rock, it is so much more than niggas with guitars. It’s about reclaiming what we created, and just making it doper than before and reaching new plateaus with everything you do. Absolute freedom depicted in this video and song.
Some songs won’t ever leave your memory, and this is a prime example. I’m reciting the lyrics now as the post is being written; the message is so strong in this track. I don’t know how all the facts are now, and what statistics remain true, but I do know that Mos Def had one of the most influential songs about the streets versus the bigger picture I ever heard growing up. This goes beyond writing a 16 – this is art. Mos spat cold reality to every listener, which he so often does in his music.
Cream Of The Planet:
Now, I know it mainlines Ski Beats, but let me tell you a little bit as to why I chose this song. This timeless piece came during a period where I was lost on my musical journey – I had exhausted all Lupe Fiasco, Talib Kweli, Common, and other artists that were my go to’s at the time. However, back when MTVJams was good, I came across this and another fellow artist by the name of Curren$y. This song was like heaven to my young ears, and his style was what got me the most. He didn’t dress like a rapper, which was when I figured out what it meant to be more than just that. Monumental to say the least. Sidenote: I wanted to throw in some older Mos Def just so y’all know he still got it!
History f. Talib Kweli
Had to rap Mos’s verse real quick, the love is real on this song. Memorable moments include me completely failing a French test in 8th grade, but the teacher appreciated the verses to this song I wrote on the back of the paper. That made me feel like what they wrote weren’t just words – people saw and treated it as true poetry. So much game to soak up in this one video!
My boy and I used to have mild discussions over who had the better verse on this killer joint. Overtime, I gotta give it to Kweli now (Originally Mos!), but I don’t want to talk away from Mos Def’s wordplay here. I think the beat was perfect for his type of voice and flow, and you got to hear just how unafraid he was to sing a hook. Now to be honest, I never thought Mos Def could sing, but here he was in his zone, so it just happened to work out. Best alliance in hip hop!
Thieves In The Night (Blackstar):
WOW. I lose my breath every time I try to rap the entire song – never once have I been able to get every single word out like they did! To be fair, a starting point for this incredible song is unheard of, right now. From the very moment the song starts, it gave off this feel that something had to be said, and I feel like this duo gave their all. Mos Def’s verse gets me all the time “Screamin’ brand new, when they just sanitized the old shit” is something you get tattooed *chuckles*. The thought process was unbelievable, if only I was able to sit in on these two as they wrote this holy grail of rhymes.
“Even ya man in Japan know who I am”, does more even need to be said? The dopeness on this track is entertaining; I like how Dj Honda made subtle appearances while letting Mos just rip his rhymes. It was the perfect mixture, and one of the first songs that introduced me to the Mighty Mos Def.
Something called an Audio 3 edition of this came out, considered a Mos Def mixtape at the time. That’s when I closed in on his “Marvin” verse, and was completely blown away. Without a doubt, it can be said that Mos Def provided a large influence for why I am so black and so proud now. Growing up in a suburban school system, but being from the urban side and not venturing your hometown much left me with no identity for many years. Through songs like these, I was able to see the picture was more than me; I had to do it for my people. Much love, Black Dante.
This is my first real tribute list, so I apologize if it comes off as a tad short. However, I do plan on doing more of these that are just as thorough. Tell me what you think of the list, and who some of your heros in the music industry are!