Review / photos: Mos Def, Talib Kweli (a.k.a. Black Star) rock the Straz Center in Tampa, then hit the decks at Crowbar
Finally. The show I’ve been waiting for. It only took six years. And it turned out to be more than just a show.
Hip hop duo Black Star, formed by rappers Mos Def (who will officially change his name to Yasiin come 2012) and Talib Kweli, was supposed to come to the Masquerade in 2005, but Mos Def never showed. Last year, Talib Kweli was scheduled to perform with DJ Hi-Tek, but Hi-Tek was MIA, and the show suberbly stunk. So, I was all too weary this go around.
Sunday evening started slowly at the Straz Center, an unusual choice of venue, but fitting for two of the classiest hip-hop artists. With tickets starting at $36.50, only half of Carol Morsani Hall was full. DJ Sandman opened, getting steady rises out of the crowd with more than 90 minutes of hip-hop jams. Throughout his mixes he would plug a free after party at Crowbar where Talib Kweli was said to DJ.
Local up and comer Dynasty followed up with a 30-minute set. By this time, the crowd seemed eager and restless, but near 10 p.m., the power duo emerged and began the hourlong front-to-back journey of their 1998 debut, Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star, backed by DJ J Rocc.
Their clothing ensemble suited the refined surrounding: Talib Kweli in a white dress shirt, suspenders, sunglasses and a top hat; Mos Def in a white dress shirt, black blazer, dress pants and plaid hat; both using vintage microphones, Talib’s green and Mos’ red. Combined chemistry = amazing.
There’s something beautiful in watching the two of them complete each other’s sentences. Something extraordinarily complementary about Kweli’s spitfire pace against Mos Def’s warm vocals as they crisscrossed the stage in sync. Or the way Kweli stayed stoic while moving and Mos Def turned into dancing jello. It was like watching a relic come alive.
Early tracks Definition and RE: DEFinition got huge a response, prompting seat assignments to not matter much, as fans swarmed the sides of stage and filled up the empty areas alongside the front rows. The ushers didn’t bother them because it seemed the diverse youngster energy may have been as overpowering as the billows of marijuana-scented smoke that fumed up into the air constantly.
About halfway through the album, Mos Def stopped and asked to dedicate a moment to Troy Davis, who was executed on Sept. 21. Both rappers freestyled about the death penalty, jail cells, Obama, Troy Davis’ momma and the Christian view of the death penalty all wrapped in an a cappella punch.
The album wasn’t exact. They shifted in singing the female vocals and at times the sound blurred, or they went a bit fast, but I couldn’t pinpoint any blaring missteps. It was all amped up, and rightfully fitting. Boos and sighs came from the crowd when the last song of the album came, but little did we all know that it wasn’t the end of a gloriously long Black Starred night. The pair reappeared for an encore featuring hits from their solo careers, but shared in each other’s performances. Kweli’s tracks included Supreme, Supreme, Never Been in Love Before, Move Somethin’ and Get By (with Mos citing his love for the second verse). Mos Def’s included History, Super Magic and Umi Says. Surely these two enjoy their own projects, and don’t get me wrong, they’re good, but as I saw on stage, the two together are powerful, commandeering musical force that I believe should stick together (Black Star 2 is slated for 2012!).
The show closed oddly. Instrumental music played and Mos Def, in his own happy-place world, danced about alone on stage. He paused to introduce the music as The Tony Williams Lifetime, “One of my favorite things on planet Earth,” followed by several minutes of what looked like a private moment of someone dancing in their bedroom to their favorite song. Captivated, the audience watched him shimmy and groove, press himself against the speaker and have a self-indulgent solo dance party while Kweli stood at the DJ booth, taking video and tweeting. And that was it. Lights came on and people spoke of the after party, and I thought, why not?
But first, to the stage door. In less than 20 minutes, Kweli came out, posed for pictures and shook hands for a crowd of 10 or so. I got one with my two friends Jamie and Jess. After another 30-minutes, Mos Def still hadn’t surfaced, so I headed over to the after party.
Crowbar’s patio surged with people and the music spilled into the surrounding, ghostlike streets. Behind the DJ booth was the birthday boy himself, Kweli. The air, cool 60s. Drinks flowed and people joined into a nonstop patio dance party. Was this really happening? Was I really hanging out at one of my local bars in Ybor City and Talib Kweli was DJing? Yes, it was. And it got better. Mos Def arrived and together, for more than two hours, the duo spun the sickest, danciest, most beloved hip-hop combinations. Break dancers spun about on the dirty concrete as a cheering crowd circled them, throwing out dollar bills to the flyest ones. Strangers became dance partners and cross crowds merged. I couldn’t leave. It was too good. But, at 2:30 a.m., the hip hop pair exited the booth, forcing an end to a rhythmic dream.
They could have been elitists and sheltered themselves safely in a hotel room, but instead, Black Star mixed themselves in an immersion of fans and spent an evening providing them with musical medicine for the soul, proving my theory that two is better than one.
-- Review/photos by Stephanie Bolling, tbt*