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Live Review: Yasiin Bey Performs MF DOOM @ Carriageworks

14 June 2024 | 1:55 pm | Shaun Colnan

This wasn’t a regular concert but an Australian premier homage to the late great mercurial MC, DOOM.

Yasiin Bey

Yasiin Bey (Credit: Jordan Munns)

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In this world of hyper-saturation, true artistry is hard to find. In What is Art?, the Russian great Leo Tolstoy decried the developing professionalism of art, saying it would hamper creativity. That uncompromising desire to create—in spite of the capitalist urge—certainly lives on in Yasiin Bey

Bey (FKA Mos Def) walked away from the celebrity spotlight years ago, preferring the purity of his art. So, seeing the Brooklyn boy-cum-hiphop legend—especially on far-flung shores—is a rare treat. Local DJ Munasib laid the foundation for this sumptuous sonic smorgasbord, blending contemporary rap and South Asian music.

From the outset, Bey showed his eccentric humility, slowly waltzing onto the stage dressed in robes and an armoured Press vest with his face covered. He slings rose petals about the stage, with a galactic visual projection as a backdrop. Then he spray paints a canvas beneath the DJ deck. Bey announces his intentions early: “What’s happening, Sydney? Welcome to the movies. Lights out. Just me and you. Don’t be scared. We’re at the movies.” 

This cryptic and laconic welcome heralded in ALL CAPS from MF DOOM’s collab album with Madlib, 2004’s Madvillainy. Here is a lyrical feast of wit, assonance and innovative flow with Bey’s delivery the framework for this rebirth of the great Daniel Dumile. This wasn’t a regular concert but an Australian premier homage to the late great mercurial MC, Viktor Vaughan, AKA The Villain, King Gheedorah, or simply DOOM.

Then Accordion kicks into gear as Bey - silhouetted by the interstellar projections behind him - launches into the idiomatic opening line: “Living on borrowed time, the clock ticks faster.” The complexity of DOOM’s verse is the signature of his music, blending witty proverbs with fast food (“Doritos, Cheetos or Fritos”) allusions and comic references (“Dick Dastardly and Muttley with sick laughter”).

Bird sounds and beeps play out as Bey calls on that motif: “Lights out. Lights out.” Then, he seamlessly cuts into Strange Ways, a critique of the ironic truth of police brutality in the US. The track bridges defiance with defiance, critiquing the hypocrisy of religion with concise precision and poignant poise. 

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“We are all love,” Bey sang as he transitioned into Curls. Like every track on Madvillainy, the brilliance of the aural wordplay is undeniable, with Bey breathing fresh life into these vivacious rhymes. The convergence of internal rhyme, consonance and assonance provides this sonic tapestry with a gloriously layered and nuanced effect.

An acapella freestyle of “another messy murder in the arcade” showed Bey’s impeccable improvisational skills while the rehash on the beat gave these lyrics a new impetus, driving the crowd to move along. 

Then that iconic sample of Sleeping In A Jar by The Mothers Of Invention sounded, and Bey sunk into Meat Grinder, brimming with obscure pop culture references and lurid imagery like the opening line: “Tripping off the beat kinda, dripping off the meat grinder”. DOOM’s inventiveness shines through with the staying power of Shakespeare. He truly is a modern bard, flexed by his lexical dexterity and his prescient messaging. While Bey’s delivery, channelling the Madvillain, melds humour and gravitas, he is solemn and reverent, yet full of gallows comedy.

Watching him at the end of Rhymes Like Dimes - another killer song with profound lines like “Only in America could you find a way to earn a healthy buck/ And still keep your attitude on self-destruct” breaking through the tomfoolery - spinning like a whirling dervish was watching the physical embodiment of flow. 

As the set moves forward, the jet lag kicks in… “Thank you for being here…fuck, it’s so hot…little entertainment soldiers. You ever feel like that? Like you don’t want to show up but know you have to?”

His jet-lagged rambling continues, pivoting to current affairs: “It’s one thing to get accused of one felony - just one - but to be convicted of all of them?! Can you remain friends with someone who’s got, like, 37 felony convictions?... I mean, see how the appeal goes, man… it’s not about me… it’s bigger than me…”

The comic renderings of the world at large continued, moving from the profound - “Free Congo…Free Gaza” to the ridiculous: “Free wifi…Do you have the password? No, I’m just on Earth with a device… Fuck these knuckleheads in suits… Free wifi. Free your mind. Free your heart… and they’re tacky!”

Carriageworks’ Bay 17 was the perfect spot for such a performance. Given its proximity to public transport and a major university, it should be used weekly as a music venue and club. It's so strange that Sydney doesn’t want to embrace nightlife beyond crowd crushes and some light shows.

After the tribute was over, Bey even left time for two original tracks, the classic Umi Says and a more recent track, Kijani - the Swahili word for green, and a song dedicated to his “dear mother” which everyone could sing along to.

“Thank you for nerding out on rap with me…” The pleasure was all ours.