Yasiin Bey Explains His New Creative Process and Worldview in Detail (Video)
Yasiin Bey is a true creative anomaly. The artist formerly known as Mos Def spent the late 1990s and early 2000s churning out material, basking in the collaborative spirit, and touring relentlessly. The world responded, and the onetime Brooklyn, New York underground MC garnered gold plaques, Top 5 debuts, and support from across the music industry.
The last 10 years of Mighty Mos’ career have been vastly different than the first decade. Since ’05, the MC has released major label albums (devoid of artwork, promotion, or marketing), he has changed his name, and the release output has slowed immensely since 2009’s The Ecstatic.
In that decade of curiosity, Yasiin Bey has largely shunned the interview platform. Instead, the former Rawkus Records breakout-turned G.O.O.D. Music artist controls his own messaging, with videos, essays, and performances. However, Beats By Dre sat down with Bey, and the BK MC opened up, speaking as lucidly as he has publicly, in ages.
“It’s not trying to be what people expect of me,” Yasiin Bey explained, perhaps alluding to his name change in recent years. “Humans are a lot more complex and dynamic than ‘this guy is this one thing,’ ‘that girl is this one thing.’ My music has always been about showing that dynamic. Even more than the money, the thing that I’m most focused on is that people take their time to listen to what I have to say. I really value that.” The musician/actor, summarized, “That’s the goal.”
Six years removed from a critically-acclaimed work, Yasiin Bey explained the hold-up, and described the sound. “What people are gonna hear from me now, or in the future, is much different than what they heard in 1999 or what they heard in 2009. But the themes and the tones have to have some dynamic nature to [them], because I’m different, the times are different—my skills level is different; it’s more enhanced because I’ve had so much time and opportunity to do it and get better at it.” In 1999, Mos Def released the gold-certified solo debut, Black On Both Sides, with the ’09 effort being his lone LP within the Atlantic/Warner Bros. family. Mos continued, “I’m more interested in what I can discover, and what the audience can discover as a result of spending time with me.” After writing acclaimed songs like “Umi Says” and “Travellin’ Man,” Yasiin says he is more focused than ever on his song-making. “I find myself these days spending more time on one piece. By the time I get to the studio now, the material—the writing, is really in me.”
Spending a lot of his time offshore, Yasiin Bey spoke about his relationship with the United States in 2015. “America’s a really challenging place for me,” he said. “Given the current social, political, economic, it is very difficult—unnecessarily difficult to create to the fullness—the robust creativity that I like to have, it’s very difficult to produce that.” Perhaps alluding to his own mental health affected by the current climate, Mos added, “I needed to take some time to put myself in environments when I felt good.” Looking at the conflicts with Yemen, Iraq, and even the last week in Baltimore, Maryland, Yasiin says, “It does something to me.” Closing that he is not anti-American, the Black Star MC said, “My country is called Earth.”
In the final seconds—Mos playfully describes playing some of his recent music for longtime collaborator/G.O.O.D. head Kanye West.
Does this rare interview give insight to why Yasiin Bey may be hard to find, but not so hard to reach? As creatives like Mos, Jay Electronica, and Kanye West are regularly abroad to make music, are these sentiments deeper than Heads may realize?
In unrelated news, Mos Def is among the final 11 MCs in the running for Ambrosia For Heads’ “Finding The GOAT” series. Round 5 ends tonight (May 4), as Mos takes on Rakim.