Mos Def : London Shepherd’s Bush Empire

He returns, ready to rock da house - which is exactly what he does...

So, this is how he returns, all starry-eyed and ready to rock da house. As if to confound expectations raised last year when Mos Def performed with a band, and delved into rock territory, tonight, the sometime thespian last seen in Spike Lee’s ‘Bamboozled’, comes back as a fully-fledged B-Boy. With two turntables, a DJ, a DAT machine, and a microphone.

Not so much stark as downright minimalist, a set-up that would normally provoke cries of ‘rip-off’ from disaffected ticket payers, is actually the perfect mode of communication for Mos Def. He projects his voice, has stagecraft, a gift for showbiz and can actually get the sell-out crowd going crazy for the duration of his set.

The Stateside audience for Mos Def‘s brand of protest music are generally assumed to be backpackers: the relatively affluent college crowd who sneer at the mainstream and support ‘alternative’ hiphop. This here crowd might contain elements of the British equivalent, but is more mixed, and dominated by very vocal people who’ve taken on what they perceive to be the hiphop attitude wholesale. A few minor scuffles even break out due to over-exuberance, but once Mos Def takes the microphone he rivets and captivates.

Talib Kweli comes on to trade verbal flows and gets a hero’s welcome, too. But the song that almost takes the roof off is the original version of ‘Mrs Fat Booty’ that finds the women in the crowd singing the chorus en-masse. As cool as that is, Mos also shows a provocative sense of humour when he introduces ‘Rock’n’Roll’ as his answer when people say he doesn’t like white people. And though he only plays the soulful section – as opposed to the trash-punk mutation – the intent is clear… [I]”You may dig on the Rolling Stones/But they didn’t come up with that style on their own/I ain’t trying to diss/But I don’t try to fuck with Limp Bizkit”[/I]. Poetry.

It’s funny and serious as well, this show. Mos Def is well aware of the ironies of hiphop’s real fashionability and bankability at this point in time. A part of him still resides in the ghetto and the other learned stagecraft from the same school as the kids from ‘Fame’. He can control a room and yet find time to mediate on historical wrongs in an almost introspective manner. Yeah, he’ll be around.

Dele Fadele