Yasiin Bey is a man of many talents, whether he’s hitting the studio and stage as Mos Def or taking to the silver screens where he plays a myriad of roles in Hollywood blockbusters. Bey’s left-leaning views on politics have also made him a compelling figure in the creative realm, utilizing his music as a vehicle to communicate his thoughts to the world. An example would be Top 40 Underdog, a project where he readapted chart hits — such as JAY Z and Kanye West’s “N****s in Paris” to “N****s in Poorest” — with his own conscious lyrics and art video. Driven by travel and the polarizing cultures, the Brooklyn native immerses himself into along the way, Bey’s footsteps has led him to now reside in both Cape Town and Paris. Africa, as he explains is a place that he’s spritually attached to, while the fashion capital plays its share in influencing his stylish makeup. We caught up with the influential artist to learn more about his new homes, Dave Chapelle’s 10-year anniversary Block Party, and why there must always be an equal intake of Shabazz Palaces and Death Grips in his diet.
While hailing from Brooklyn, New York, where are you based right now?
I’m based in Cape Town and Paris at the moment, planet earth is the address.
Cape Town and Paris are opposites part of the world, why have you chosen these two locales?
You’ve got to be where you feel good and effective. A place that also provides opportunity and inspiration. Moving to a new location is always the same procedure; find a house, move in, these two cities give me more of an emotional attachment. It’s a soul connection rather than a logical or rational connection, and it only makes sense to me. I see a lot of opportunities in Paris and Cape Town and I’m blessed and fortunate enough to be able to be based out there. Traveling keeps me inspired. Recently, I’ve been to Johannesburg, Morocco, Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Chille, checking out the local music and fashion industry. One of the few places I can think I haven’t been to yet is Reykajvik, the capital of Iceland.
Are there any particular attributes that Cape Town offers that Paris doesn’t, and vice versa?
The world is a very dynamic place, so every place is different and has its own pros and cons, challenges and joys. I like being based in Africa, there’s a lot more of the continent that I’m looking forward to seeing and experiencing and working in even. Africa provides a lot of inspiration to me, almost on every level, not just as a creative, but spiritually.
In terms of music, you’ve collaborated on a vast number of projects and continue to push hip-hop to new depths. Who’s exciting you right now?
I listen to everything, I’m also reading a lot. For music, I’ve been listening to a lot of Shabazz Palaces, Chimurenga Renaissance and Death Grips. Perhaps a bit too much Death Grips (laughs). I love their new stuff too, “Hacker” is dope “Fever” is also a great tune. Even though the bands I just mentioned are polar opposites, I’m definitely compelled by their energy. We all need a balance of opposites. I’m also into Kelea, Benjamin Clementine, Petite Noir, Dirty Paraffin from Brooklyn who is amazing and Googoosh from Iran. (Head over to HYPETRAK for Yassin Bey’s exclusive playlist)
You recently performed at Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, 10 years after its original landmark in 2004. How was the show?
It was a much bigger level than Block Party 2004. Shepard Fairey released specially-designed T-shirts that were given away to 60.000 people over the course of 10 days. The show was sold out and brought together longstanding friends and collaborators; The Roots, Erykah Badu, Nas, Talib Kweli, The Fugees, Common, Dead Prez. Kanye also passed through which was a great moment. It was great to see Dave Chapelle take stage too after his self-imposed hiatus.
With the new year fast approaching, what can you tell us about your forthcoming releases?
I’ve been in the studio with a lot of folks doing different projects. Me and Mannie Fresh’s collaborative OMFGOD album is 80% done. I’m also working on more releases from the Black Jack Johnson (a rap-rock hybrid that consists of Yasiin himself and keyboardist Bernie Worrell, guitarist Dr. Know, drummer Will Calhoun, and bassist Doug Wimbish), Watermelon Syndicate. I’m just staying focused and working areas much bigger than hip-hop, although hip-hop is where many of the projects sprouted from.
What advice can you give to hip-hop artists looking to push boundaries within the genre?
Hip-hop has evolved to a point where the movement is not solely dependent on the MC anymore. Producers like Madlib and J.Dilla, alongside a contemporary breed of producers like Clams Casino, XXXY, araabMUZIK, Floating Points, Jamie XX, are creating a good sonic experience. I want to showcase hip-hop as more than just attached to the vocalist as I would just encourage artists to explore a different sonic perspective in hip-hop, there’s no real mainstream advice I can give more like a different sonic perspective. If the work is good and it’s consistent, you just keep at it and people will will appreciate it.
Stay tuned for the second part of the conversation, which touches on fashion and style, and more, to appear on HYPEBEAST tomorrow.
Photography: Jenah Yamamoto