Early this year, Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, announced his retirement from the music business in an odd 10-minute voicemail posted to Kanye West’s website. The message begins with the lyrics, “No more parties in S.A.,” and ends with the statement that he will be retiring from music and film “effective immediately.” This left hip-hop fans and millennials alike confused and in fear that a piece of hip hop had died. Yet, in true Yassiin Bey fashion, he announced a “Celebration of life” farewell concert tour beginning at the Apollo Theater and culminating Dec. 31 through Jan. 2 at the Kennedy Center.
“We are so excited to collaborate with the Kennedy Center on what will be a milestone moment in not only hip-hop history but also in popular culture. The Apollo is the epicenter of African American culture and has always been a nurturer and supporter of innovation and artistic brilliance, so it is only fitting that yasiin bey have his final U.S. performances here as his contributions to hip-hop, and music in general, are endless,” said the Apollo Theater’s Executive Producer Kamilah Forbes.
Many were skeptical, being that, in 2014, Yasiin Bey had to cancel his U.S. tour over immigration issues barring him from coming back to the 50 states. All of Bey’s immigration woes came to a head on Jan. 14, 2016, when he was arrested at the Cape Town airport while attempting to leave the country and charged with violation of local immigration laws. Following his arrest, a South African court ruled that Bey had 14 days to leave South Africa, which could lead to the rapper being banned from the nation for up to five years. Bey originally left the United States for South Africa, stating “America’s a very challenging place for me,” explaining that, “Given the current social, political, economic climate … the type of creativity that I like to have, it’s very difficult for me to produce that here.”
Yet his Dec. 31 performance at the Kennedy Center was a tribute to hip hop and to his five-album discography.
Every show was to offer a unique musical experience for audiences with Bey performing songs from a different album each night. With “Black Orpheus” as the backdrop, rose petals dropping from his fingers and balloons falling from the ceiling, he was joined by Grammy Award winner Robert Glasper for two out of the three shows and rapper Talib Kweli for the final one. Yassin sang, he rocked, he spoke of his philosophies of living in the moment and his enjoyment of balloons. If this was truly Yasiin’s final sendoff, he has proven that his work will live on.
Following his final U.S. performances, Bey will venture to Africa to focus on his arts, culture and lifestyle collective A Country Called Earth (ACCE). He will also continue to pursue his newly formed passions as a painter. His art, as well as that of various other ACCE artists, will be anonymously displayed at the Apollo Theater and the Kennedy Center.