Sure, Yasiin Bey is retiring. But that doesn’t mean that Mos Def doesn’t live on in his work. And as much as his garbled cell phone call to Kanye seems like the last gasp of a storied career in music and entertainment, the guy who brought us “Umi Says” and “Ms. Fat Booty”, “Mathematics, and “Sex, Love & Money” retired a long time ago, becoming a man more worldly and focused more on his faith.
When Mos Def changed his name to Yasiin Bey in late-2011, a name that he had planned to use and adapt for recordings, live performances and movies, many viewed it as a fairly odd move. The already well known artist defended himself in an interview given to GQ by claiming that “Mos Def was being treated as a product, not a person”.
To us, the general public, this was big news. But to Bey, this was a little more than an effort to make himself more human in the public eye. He had been using the name Yasiin privately among friends and family for over a decade to that point. Mos Def, of course, had references to his faith on many of his recordings and in an effort to keep with the traditions of Islam, picked this Muslim name for himself. Bey also noted to MTV2 in 2011, that he would not be offended if people called him Mos Def in the future as he had spent years creating this persona, this professional outward expression of himself, and was still proud of the work he produced.
In 2013, Yasiin moved himself and his family to South Africa. Having become more and more disillusioned with the United States as a whole. In an interview given to HipHopDX Bey described his feelings, saying “to leave America .. with five or six generations from the same town .. things gotta be not so good.”
Having moved so far from his longtime creative home may have proven to be a bit shortsighted as he had moved to South Africa on a visitors permit, which he overstayed. The results of which were nothing short of catastrophic when in 2014 he was forced to cancel a US Tour, which featured huge shows in Boston, NY and LA.
Bey’s immigration issues culminated on January 14th this year when he was arrested in Cape Town while attempting to leave in violation of local immigration laws. South African courts found that both Bey and his family lacked proper permits to be in the country and had 14 days to leave.
Six days later, on January 20th, Kanye West released a 11-minute cell phone call titled A Message From Yasiin Bey. Beginning the message with the lyrics “No More Parties in S.A.”, Yasiin free-form rhymes for a few minutes before ending with a statement mentioning that he would be retiring from music and film “effective immediately”.
Yasiin Bey leaves behind a legacy of someone who had a hand is nearly every pie of entertainment. Music, Movies, TV – Yasiin Bey, at his peak, was a force to be reckoned with. The same guy who could freestyle with the best of them, could pull off an amazing Ford Prefect in 2005’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. There are very few who have that sort of versatility.
From his starts with Talib Kweli and Black Star to the criminally overlooked The Ecstatic Bey’s music spans a decade of magical work in and out of the spotlight. We may never see another rapper so naturally versatile and holistic again.