I missed Yasiin Bey‘s set at Smokin’ Grooves over the summer and deeply regretted it, so when the opportunity arose to see him perform in an intimate setting like The Observatory, I was elated to redeem myself for one of my biggest FOMO moments of 2018.
Before Yasiin made his way out, his DJ spun iconic songs that have since been sampled in modern day hip hop, Joe Simons “Before The Night Is Over”, which you may remember was sampled in Outkast’s “So Fresh So Clean”, was one of many.
Perhaps to signify love and his soul’s active presence in creation, Yasiin prepared the stage by sprinkling rose petals all around it, he then spray painted the word “Oysters” on a white sheet as he began his set.
During his first song, Yasiin Bey took one look at the two of us in the photo pit and requested for the house to dim the lights. The photo journalist in me accepted the challenge to “get the story” regardless of the lighting situation, however the human part of me struggled with the inherently dirty feeling of photographing someone who did not wish to have their performance captured by means of digital technology.
The truth is, my motivation for covering the music scene is completely self serving. Yes, I want to support the musicians and record history in the making, but in reality, I only shoot the music because I love music. I generally shoot for the first few songs and then put my camera away in order to make sure that I am present and actually staying true to my motivation for being there in the first place. However, when lighting or position poses an issue, I often times I am so consumed with getting the perfect shot that the mental capacity to be submerged completely in the moment is lost. On one hand, I find challenge helps me grow creatively in the sense that I feel encouraged to experiment with techniques to find the most interesting way of capturing the essence of the moment, but on the other hand, I will sometimes feel like I missed the entire show because I want to make sure that the work I am delivering is quality.
Yasiin Bey asked for the crowd to put away their cell phones. He said”our brains are the best computers that we have,” also noting that “it’s all right in front of us: the fashion, my sneakers, the art of performance.”
He encouraged his fans to be fully in the moment with him as opposed to experiencing it through a screen. As I grabbed my phone to add to my notes, I realized that all the previous notes I had punched in somehow disappeared. I remembered his words, “our brains are the best computers that we have” and realized that was my queue from the universe to to put my phone and camera away. I was relieved because in my heart, I really just wanted to dance with him.
One father-son duo stood front and center of the stage intensely studying Yasiin Bey’s face. As he flowed through hit after hit, they each sculpted his features into a matching wax busts. That guy won “2018 Father of the Year” in my eyes that night!
Yasiin performed his set flawlessly with Dilla and Madlib beats to back him up. It was everything I had hoped for and more. Mos Def may have a new name, but one thing remains the same, he is one of the greatest voices in hip hop of all time. His lyrics raise the bar for those of us on a spiritual path and his ability to connect with a room full of people on a deeper level through his performance reminds us how to be communal and present emotionally even in the modern age of technology. Yasiin Bey may have dimmed the stage lights but the energy he projected was enough to permeate the room with the kind of light you can feel in your soul. He ended his performance by dancing to Milton Nascimento’s “Tudo Que Você Podia Ser” while passing out love to his fans in the form of long stemmed roses —a perfectly fitting way to bid 2018 farewell.
Words and Photos by: Jessica Moncrief