Would he show? We didn’t know.
A wave of recent cancelations made any performance seem suspect. The 30-40-minute wait we endured at Portland’s Roseland Theater didn’t help, either. Thankfully, our fears proved unnecessary. When Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) emerged, he looked like a slick jazz musician from some old ’40s photo. He called out his signature live line, “Peace, peace, peace,” and sprinkled rose petals across the stage like he was blessing it with beauty.
What came next probably surprised anyone who hasn’t seen the rapper in the last few years. The modern Bey set is much like The Ecstatic in that it’s broad in its scope, treasures many styles and feeds off of sounds outside the pop mainframe. In many ways, it feels like jazz — and you have no idea where it’s going.
There was a moment where Bey just played music and spun around, arms out like a propeller. Another where he cut the sound to go a cappella, rewinding on phrases for emphasis like he was delivering a lesson. He covered “Juicy!” He brought out Dave Chappelle. He performed underground classics like “Mathematics” and told us about falling out of love with New York.
A testament to his abilities is that he never lost the crowd’s attention. When he sang through Aretha Franklin’s “One Step Ahead” before dropping “Ms. Fat Booty,” we were there. Bey is truly a master of himself, a free spirit working a plan untied to what is usually expected of popular artists. This gives him staying power and turns what could be another concert into an immersive experience.
His opener, Raz Simone created a unique atmosphere all his own by performing in a makeshift round. As he made his way around the circle, he stopped for hugs, got close to people and broke down the barrier that usually keeps artists away from their audience. It was captivating.