Back at the Evergreen State College, hip-hop with a message was huge in the 1990’s. Blackstar, the group that Mos Def formed with Talib Kweli, was blasted out the dorms heading into the new millennium. Mos Def (aka Dante Smith) has released a few albums since his popularity of the late 90s, but he has also been busy with making his share of films in Hollywood.
Take a trip to Netflix or imdb and you’ll find out that Mos Def is a fairly prolific actor who studied film at NYU back in the early 90’s. He also appeared in “The Hard Way” with Michael J Fox (1991) and starred on the short lived “Cosby Mysteries” (1994) but, what really caught my eye was the “Hip Hopera“, “Carmen“, which was produced by MTV in 2001. I remember watching MTV pump the musical like it was the sequel to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller“. The latest Destiny’s Child video, “Survivor“, was even set to premiere after the television “masterpiece“. Well, the music sucked and, although Mos Def did a good job, he couldn’t save this poorly conceived idea to make the modern day version of “Carmen“. It was like a generic time capsule of the early 21st century rap music videos as a long form musical. What I did enjoy was the MC’s work on “The Dave Chapelle Show“. It felt magical and his performances were awesome.
2004 was a good year for Mos Def musically. He released the critically acclaimed album, The New Danger, which featured the band Black Jack Johnson. Even though it was not a straight hip hop record, it brought Bad Brains and Living Colour together and that, alone, is pretty sweet. In this coming year the rapper is scheduled to come out with a new CD, but it is more likely that a new Mos Def movie or television program will hit the streets before that project is released. Smith’s ex-wife, Alana Wyatt, recently wrote a tell-all book about him, which makes some scandalous accusations about the artist, who prides himself on being “conscious“. I have not read it, but I’m sure it was made to exploit the character and career of the performer by someone that could never have created masterpieces like 1999’s “Black on Both Sides” and 2007’s “Be Kind Rewind“. With his latest release being the film “Cadillac Records” and, without a new record out in stores to promote, it seems as if Mos Def will simply go on tour for the hell of it. This time through, I was able to catch Mos live at The Moore Theatre to see what his current stage show was all about.
Anyone who made it to this concert was down for the cause. With snow coming down, it went on and on and on. The hip-hop did not stop throughout the show. He opened by doing the song “Boogie Man” a-capella and it was dark and cool. All you could hear was his awesome voice in the dark. The DJ provided some great old-school style jams which went well with the message that was coming from the MC. They had a laid back vibe to them and I didn’t feel stressed from any of the music. The samples that he played sounded as if they had traveled around the world, found all the best music, and then fused them together. There was a lot of new material and I had never heard many of the tracks being performed.
There were only two people on stage, which can be rare for a rap concert, but the duo was able to keep the magic on stage without a huge entourage. This was definitely not like when Sir Mix A Lot played at Seattle’s Showbox, and had about 20 people on stage rapping all times. When Mos Def sang, it was mesmerizing. The crowd seemed to know a lot of the songs and when to come in at the right parts. The real fans were there and he never even had to tell people to dance. Everyone got down when the music called for it. He made you move.
The theater was packed that night. I remember back when my friend Ben told me about a Too Short concert that he had seen at The Moore. He said that a bunch of rappers were passing the mic on stage for way too long and that Too Short left his DAT back home. On top of that, the show only lasted about 15 minutes. This performance, on the other hand, was the exact opposite of what I had imagined that Too Short show to be like. The Mos Def crowd was laid back and the security didn’t even bother to search anyone on their way in through the entrance. I liked The Moore as a venue and the sound of the vocalist’s live performance sounded better than on his albums. I really enjoyed the messages that he was pushing of “peace” and “love” and, if he played a concert in town again, I would definitely try and attend it.
Overall, I feel that most Mos Def should not be missed and, if you have an opportunity to catch him in your area, I suggest that you take advantage of it. If you are interested in finding any upcoming tour dates, however, I wish you luck. The bio and info is blank on his label’s website and Mosdef.com will only reroute you to his myspace page, which provides very little information or updates. I couldn’t find any useful alternative links from his site/myspace page. If they do exist, I still couldn’t locate any show dates listed, like there were when he was featured on the Rock the Bells tour in ’07. After my recent unsuccessful investigation, I was reminded of the youtube video of a young myspace-addicted boy being harassed by his older brother. Someone told the boy that myspace wasn’t in the future. As for the future of Mos Def’s page, I hope it will start featuring more musical info but, until that point, you might actually have better luck at imdb.com. From what we do know, his new album, “The Ecstatic“, has a tentative release date in February and he is currently working on the film “Keep Coming Back“, co-starring Steve Buscemi and directed by William H. Macy.
(All photographs courtesy of Jason Ross from The Seattle Theatre Group)
The first single from The Ecstatic is called “Life In Marvelous Times” and is currently available for free download by clicking HERE
The video below is from Mos Def’s Moore Theatre performance. The song featured is called “Auditorium” and is another track from his upcoming release. The beat was done by Madlib and the song will also contain a verse by “The Ruler” Slick Rick.