One performed on Thursday for a rather hefty (and not really understandable price), and the other embraced the city at Unity Fest for free. Two emcees from the same region (Brooklyn, NY) who have made music together for years and blessed Hip Hop with their lyrical talent came to Toronto on separate occasions to share their gift with their fellow north-of-the-border fans. I’ve personally listened to more Talib than Mos, but that doesn’t mean that I’m completely deaf to Mos’ music; I just have to dive back into his catalog BYB (BYB = Before Yasiin Bey). It was a former store manager of mine that really put me on to both of them, so I feel like everything was just coming full circle when I saw them perform.
The unfortunate thing about Mos Def is that he’ll always be overshadowed by the fact that Brooklyn churned out so many great MCs, 2 of them being in the Top 10 or 5 of pretty much anyone’s list (Biggie and Jay Z). Conscious rappers are often overshadowed to begin with (see his Black Star counterpart Talib Kweli), so it’s no surprise that he won’t be as remembered while he’s still around. Kanye West has done a good job to make sure that people still understand that Mos is here to stay, and there are even those who strictly know him for his acting (Chappelle’s Show cameos & The Italian Job for examples). I wasn’t (still sort of aren’t) a HUGE Mos Def fan, because I only knew a few songs, but when I listened to Black on Both Sides for the first time about 3 years ago, I definitely could appreciate the fact that he brought the term MC to life. He truly is the embodiment of someone who can be labeled as a Master of Ceremony, although most would disagree.
If I didn’t go to NXNE, I wouldn’t have known that he was in town a couple of days before my 24th birthday (shout out to Mirna for the invite), so I said “why not” because it’s not often that you get a chance to witness a legend live (I still haven’t seen Nas live either). I should skip the heavy abundance of openers that were, and I should also bypass the fact that this was a $60 dollar event – Sixty. Six. Zero. I mean, I can’t speak too much because I’ve paid $100 & $200+ for Jay-Z (twice) and Kanye West, but I digress, for that price, the openers could have provided more entertainment before Mos opened up. The emphasis of the acts were conscious and soulful (there was no ‘turn up’ music – it wasn’t the time), but leading up to Mos’ entrance, there was a lot of old school soul music playing. Rise by Herb Alpert played in full before Solstice by Brian Bennett started, which is the sample for Kanye West’s Lord Lord Lord, and it was the song that Mos came out to while throwing rose petals on the stage and on the ground. It was like witnessing an artist set up his canvas before starting to work. It was pretty cool, and as many may have seen it as time being wasted, it was an aura being built up (I can’t blame them; openers ran on for 4 hours, and he came on at 12:45am). Mos performed his verse from the track (one of my personal favourites) and he began to show off his vocals by belting out soulful notes to end it off.
In-between his tracks, he often just played Soul music to get not only himself, but the entire crowd into a groove – it was great. He alternated his set between his older Mos Def & newer Yasiin Bey tracks. Life in Marvelous Times, Casa Bey, Supermagic, Auditorium, There Is A Way, and the ever popular Umi Says from his first album Black on Both Sides. Throw in some acapella moments and even rhyming over The Motto beat, and tributes to Michael Jackson; this was a solid set and he was quite the entertainer through and through. I was upset that I didn’t get to hear Ms. Fat Booty and Sex, Love & Money, but he had the crowd rocking into the late night, and it was almost worth the 147 opening acts (if you were there, it definitely felt like 147). If he had come out while I still had the ability to open my eyes willingly and groove around more, I would have enjoyed it more, but the endless wait and being in a venue for 6 hours had me depending on the nearby speaker for support. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy his set, because it was great to witness. It was most definitely (I had to do it) a performance to remember, and I thank my dear friend again for having me out. Hip Hop was definitely alive and the soul was filled. Another friend of mine (not sure if revealing their identity will get them in trouble) said it best, “this is like a religious celebration, and this is just sacrilegious that these people are opening for Mos Def.” I couldn’t have said it better myself, and it was just the first half of the Black Star.
Talib Kweli has the lengthier catalog between the two, so he definitely had the amount of songs to run through. The Unity Festival occurred on my birthday (July 20th), and I just found that it was a perfect end to a great weekend, because it added balance and brought the year in on the right foot. Luckily for me, I was occupied for the day and when I went downtown, I bypassed all of the opening acts, and Talib was right up to perform – perfect timing. With a new album having come out this year (Prisoner of Conscious), Talib went through some tracks on there: Come Here (without Miguel), Turnt Up, and Rocket Ships, and Upper Echelon. Kweli showed off his lyrical prowress much like Mos Def with the acapelas , and he even rapped over the Rack City beat and also a Drake beat (I forgot which one – I tuned it out).
The main songs I wanted to hear performed live (not because they’re the most popular ones) were The Blast and Get By, because they’re actually personal favourites. He performed both of them, and what I liked was how he played in the original samples before getting into the song itself. He had moments where he had his DJ play old school reggae, and it brought out a frenzy in the crowd. I mean, being from Brooklyn, of course he was going to embrace his roots. From Mavado, to Bob Marley, he ran through some serious hits, and it did nothing but create and double the energy that had seemed to have been lost throughout the day. He ran through more songs throughout his bulky catalog (Move Somethin, Experience Dedication, and I Try for examples), and just when he was done, he came back out and performed one of my favourite songs from P.O.S, Push Thru (without Kendrick Lamar & Curren$y, obviously).
To sum up the two concerts over the stretch of 3 days in one word: Legendary. Like it or not, these two rappers are legends in Hip Hop because they’re a couple of few that actually have that soul to speak out on what everyone else isn’t. They’re not as popular for it because of that, but when it breaks down to being hip hop, they keep their roots (although both have gone through their experimental periods) and they remember the importance of their position, the DJ, and most importantly the crowd that they’re entertaining. They both felt like real hip hop shows; intimate, engaging, and graceful. I’m glad I played in part of being there to respect the culture – it’s a beautiful one. Until next time
That’s My Word & It STiXX