Tour Log: Mos Def and Jay Electronica Rock ATL

Hours before Mos Def and Jay Electronic hit the stage in Atlanta; a line had formed outside the Tabernacle venue. An elderly cop rode up on one of those electric-powered 2 wheel scooters, and addressed the early attendees as to what they could expect tonight.

 

“Hey, y’all might learn something and get some culture tonight,” the cop began in all seriousness. “This isn’t that ‘my hoe, I kill cops’ Hip-Hop!”

 

The dumbstruck crowd watched as the elderly officer sped off as quickly as he appeared. That short encounter crystallized the mass appeal of Mos Def, a multi-talented artist whose equal skills in reggae, blues, soul, and emceeing have found an eternal home in the melting pot that is Hip-Hop culture. And with one of the genre’s best kept secrets in Jay Electronica by his side, the Mighty Mos Def made a memorable ATL stop as a part of the nationwide Ecstatic Tour.

 

The ATL audience was a nice mixture of street, cosmopolitan, young, and middle-aged Hip-Hoppers. However, the various side conversations confirmed that many were not up on Jay Electronica outside of the fact that he’s the father of Erykah Badu’s latest child.

 

Even with that disadvantage, Jay succeeded in winning the crowd over with the visceral imagery and allusions on tracks like “Dimethyltriptamine” and “A Prayer For Michael Vick and T.I.”

 

Knowing that sound systems often stifle lyrics at shows, Jay made a point to cut off the beat during his more well-known freestyles to make sure the uninitiated remembered him solely for his lyrical dexterity. His blending of religious symbolism (NOI/5%, Christianity etc.) and conspiracy theories (Kennedy Assassination) elicited audible wows on cerebral-heavy selections like “My World (Nas Salute)” and “Abracadabra.”

 

 

Unfortunately, time constraints prevented Jay from performing the full 9 minute version of his magnum opus “Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge).” Still, the New Orleans native got the crowd cheering by completing the first movement, which name drops 50, Wayne, and Jeezy as artists used by the radio to marginalize the diverse sounds of Hip-Hop.

 

 

Mos Def began his set by utilizing drum instrumentation as the backbone for a brief interpolation of his standout album tracks. The format was reminiscent of Nas’ I Am intro, and the Brooklynite teased songs like “Fear Not of Man” and “Casa Bey” before settling on a stirring rendition the blues-inspired number “The Boogie Man Song.”

 

Although his experimental LPs The New Danger and True Magic received mixed reviews, the rock elements translated well live and prevented the monotony that sometimes accompanies unimaginative, straight Hip-Hop sets. The pulsing drums of “Ghetto Rock” kept the crowd bouncing, and Mos maintained the eclectic atmosphere by dropping classic reggae tunes (Musical Youth’s “Pass the Dutchie”), and even covering a Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”

 

 

He received his strongest reception when going back to songs from the acclaimed Black Star album and his debut LP Black On Both Sides. Ever the student of history, Mos preceded his hit “Ms. Fat Booty” with the original Aretha Franklin sample (“One Step Ahead”) before switching the rhythm mid-song to the Jackson 5’s ubiquitous “It’s Great to be Here.” Despite the absence of rhyme partner Talib Kweli, Mos had no issues rocking and Talib’s verses on the classic singles “RE:DEFintion” and “Respiration.”

 

In all, the old cop was right. Tonight was a concert that showed Hip-Hop in rare form, far elevated above the mundane, uninspired offerings that plague much of the culture’s mainstream sound. And with Jay Electronica and Mos Def planning a joint album, fans can be optimistic that this tour is just a taste of the great music to come.

 

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