Iconic hip-hop duo Black Star graces the Mezzanine

blackstar
Rawkus Records/Courtesy

On Nov. 16th, Black Star — rappers Mos Def, now known as Yasiin Bey, and Talib Kweli — hit the Mezzanine in San Francisco. Known for their thought-provoking and introspective lyrics, Black Star has managed to stay in demand even though their last album came out over a decade ago. Many have labeled the group’s first and only album a hip-hop classic. Though there have been rumors that the group will reunite their collaboration, nothing has been solidified. For fans of the group, the news that they would perform at the Mezzanine came as a chance to finally hear in person the songs they’ve so long been acquainted with.

Though both rappers have had fruitful solo careers, the novelty of hearing original Black Star material was the obvious motivation for the diverse crowd that were likely toddlers or teenagers when the first Black Star album came out. Preceded by four acts which included two DJ sets, which are meant to warm up the crowd were largely successful, until it became too much to bare. The performances were unnecessarily long. Some began to question whether Black Star was even in the building. Negatives aside, there were some worthwhile moments such as the performance by Hieroglyphics band member Pep Love who performed solo material as well as classics from the legendary band.

At roughly 11:45 p.m., the D.J. occupied the background of the stripped-down set, the lights went dim, and Black Star strolled out as if they were early. The pain of my aching legs quickly pardoned the situation and all was forgotten. Both dressed in button-down shirts and sport coats, the fashion-conscious pair complemented office-wear with Brooklyn-styled accessories like multiple rings and ball caps as The Kinks’s “A Well Respected Man” played to the increasingly loud audience. As was customary, the group quickly thanked their fans for their time and money, at which point the beat dropped to the song “Thieves in the Night,” hands exploded into the air and the high intensity nature of the concert was instantly established.

The group showed their love for the Bay Area by often reiterating the all too familiar call-out ‘yay-areaaaa,’ and on occasion incorporating it into their complex verses. Yasiin’s voice sounded a bit worn during the first few songs, perhaps a product of the previous day’s performance. By the time the fan favorite “Definition” rolled along, the group had clearly gotten into their groove. They didn’t take too many breaks in between songs, opting to seamlessly transition between tracks with the help of their obviously experienced D.J.

Admired for being a group who helped re-establish the rawness in hip-hop during a time when the genre was suffering from commercial priorities, the group dived head first into a long unplugged freestyle that left no thought unshared and no attendant unimpressed.

At times the duo did stumble over each other’s lyrics, a result of the high tempo double time rhymes that make for easy error. Their enthusiasm masked any discrepancy, turning error into opportunity with veteran ease. After the encore, Yasiin performed his solo classic “Umi Says” and accompanied Kweli in his hit “Get By.” With projectors surrounding the intimate stage, the duo was multiplied around their loyal audience. Yasiin finished the show with a solo dance performance to music by The Tony William Lifetime band, fading into the darkness behind the curtains. The performance is sure to satisfy many Black Star fans who patiently await their new album, whenever and if ever that may be.