Dec. 9, 2016, on a rainy night in Oakland Calif. Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def) celebrated both his birthday and his retirement, in one of his last Bay Area performances. With nearly two months notice for the show it was a little surprising to see that tickets were still available at the Fox Theater box office, but thankfully the night eventually sold out.
Joining Yasiin Bey on a handful of his farewell tour shows was hybrid comedian and beatbox master Reggie Watts. Armed with his looping machine and his insanely high and low vocals, Reggie created harmonies with himself and perfectly built up tracks piece by piece using only his voice. While addressing the crowd, Reggie accepted a joint from security, and as he held it high the crowd erupted in cheer. After joking about the low rents and numerous arts communities in San Francisco Watts wrapped up his set with a full on tribal session complete with mock didgeridoos and chanting monks that devolved into a dubstep/The Streets mashup, which Watts promptly shut down and apologized for.
While the stage hands removed Reggie Watts’ equipment, the crowd was treated to a surprise performance by M1 from Dead Prez. As DJ Von kept the beats banging and M1 rapped along with the lyrics the audience became restless. As part of the crowd began chanting for Yasiin Bey, Oakland’s hype man called them out and said, “come on people, you’re not in San Francisco, this is Oakland, we’re all here to have a good time, and you all just need to be patient." With nearly an hour passing since Watts left the stage, people began to wonder if Yasiin would show at all.
Finally, as the crew members started to bring out giant bags full of balloons (for Yasiin’s birthday) it was clear that he would show up soon. Once M1 said his goodbyes and the lights changed from blue to red, Yasiin Bey made his way onto the stage. Dressed in his standard African apparel, consisting of white layered garments, and his fisherman’s hat, Yasiin Bey addressed the crowd by blowing three fingered kisses, and exclaimed Happiness is open for Business.
Generally when an artist plans a farewell tour, they decide to perform a collection of their greatest hits spanning their entire career. However, Yasiin Bey has never really played from the “standard artist” playbook. Even though he has nearly 20 years of iconic hip-hop music, the Black Star rapper wanted to mix it up for his last time on stage. In addition to crushing some crowd favorites like ‘Sex Love and Money’ and ‘Mathematics’ he also decided to flip the script a little and remix his own songs using lyrics from one track and beats from another. The result made casual fans confused and a little irritated, but clearly resonated with his die-hard fans and spoke volumes of his artistry.
About halfway through his set Yasiin talked about his decision to retire which prompted the crowd to yell, “Nooooooo!’ Which then prompted Bey to comment “You know, when someone tells you they are retiring, and you yell No to them, that doesn’t make them change their mind. Ive been doing this sh*t since I was 9 years old. I’m tired, but we’re here to have a good time, so lets focus on that.” As the most beautiful boogeyman continued to surprise the Fox Theater with new cuts of old classics and mashup covers including Earth Wind and Fire’s ‘Let’s Groove’ and Frank Sinatra’s ‘It was a very good year’ to celebrate all the great artists that we lost in 2016, it was clear that this was a very special night.
Yasiin Bey has a handful of dates left on his Farewell Tour including dates in Beverly Hills and Sacramento before playing his final four shows on US soil at the Apollo Theater in NY, and the Kennedy Center in D.C. Yasiin is also planning to release his new album December 99th exclusively on Tidal music sometime this month.