On Saturday night, rapper Mos Def meandered on stage in a slow-to-build performance. But fans open-minded and patient enough to give him a chance (and most were quite eager to), were rewarded with a freewheeling, eclectic performance suitable as the first major hip-hop performance at the Adrienne Arsht Center in downtown Miami.
After Mos Def's two DJs, Preservation and Gold Medal Man, took the stage, the typically low-key and quirky Mos, dressed in a grey t-shirt and baseball cap and wielding mallets, managed to sneak on stage unbeknownst to much of the crowd and man his orchestral drum kit, which he played on several songs.
Much of the first half of his 90 minute set was dedicated to songs from his recent release, The Ecstatic. He slowly worked his way through "Casa Bey," "Priority," and "Auditorium" while his DJs would lay the musical groundwork sampled in Mos' songs.
Between songs, Mos was gracious and humble, often thanking the crowd. But the several-minute long interludes between songs (which consisted of various soul, funk and reggae songs that he would sing and dance to) often became tedious for the crowd.
It wasn't until performances of "No Hay Nada Mas" (a Spanish-language track from The Ecstatic that earned a big smile from him when the crowd sang the chorus) and a slowed-down, haunting cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," that the crowd began warming up.
Luckily for the crowd, he saved the best for last: Performances of Black Star classics "Definition" and "Respiration" (sans his partner-in-rhyme Talib Kweli), along with his biggest hits "Ms. Fat Booty" and "Umi Says" brought much of the audience to its feet.
New Orleans-based rapper Jay Electronica opened for Mos, putting on the equivalent of a hip-hop sketch comedy show. Between his complex and political raps on songs like "Exhibit A," he showed his hilarious stage banter, questioning whether he could "cuss" at a performing arts center, offering his take on social media (he likes Twitter and Facebook, but hates MySpace) and rapping over the theme song to The Price Is Right.
Mos Def's setlist:
- The Boogie Man Song
- Casa Bey
- Ghetto Rock
- Close Edge
- No Hay Nada Mas
- Billie Jean (Michael Jackson cover)
- U R The One
- Ms. Fat Booty
- Sex, Love & Money
- Umi Says
- Quiet Dog Bite Hard
- Travelling Man