Concert Reviews

Black Star at Cervantes', 5/11/12


The first strains of the Beastie Boys' "No Sleep Til Brooklyn" started blaring through the speakers as Yasiin Bey shook himself onto the stage to thunderous screams of applause. Wielding an red old school "drop mike," the Brooklyn MC fist pumped and enticed the crowd while theatrically mouthing the hook to the infamous track. Talib Kweli, back like he never left, raised his hands in acknowledgment of the more than packed house. His debonair style (Fedora clad, he was rocking a thin-cut vintage suit) was in stark contrast to a more pared down jeans and tucked in button up from Bey. Holding his own black microphone, the sweat commenced to pouring, as did the righteous rhymes.

Opening up with "You Already Knew," from their new album, Black Star Aretha, Yasiin and Kweli displayed an undeniable chemistry. Although the two haven't released an album together in over a decade, the choice to open up with new material was a good one, as it gave the guys an opportunity to big up Aretha Franklin, the inspiration for the new Black Star songs, and get the audience warmed up quite nicely.

Vacillating between newer material and joints from the first project -- "Astronomy (8th Light)" took us all back to '98 -- the two took turns dominating the stage. The atmosphere was wild in the room; the sold out crowd kept the energy level at a ten the entire time. Although Kweli was here less than a month ago for a show sans Yasiin Bey, it was almost like he never left. The stage show wasn't choreographed, but there seemed to be an understanding between the two of the roles they would play: Kweli, the gentleman wordsmith with precise and efficient rhymes, and Bey, the wild as wind performance master.

The juxtaposition was especially evident when they transitioned from "This Means You" into Yasiin's solo performance of "Auditorium" from his 2009 release, The Ecstatic. Kweli hyped up the crowd, rapping the words almost as a fan, while Yasiin climbed atop the speaker, threw his hands in the air and went nuts to the Madlib beat. The audience scatted the sing-songy hook back to the rapper, who, delighted in the interaction, enticed with a second and third go around of the chorus.

Using this opportunity to big up Slick Rick, who is featured on that track, there was a brief "A Children's Story" interlude before a performance of "Definition," and "Re:Definition." Kweli was more than ready for his solo offering of "In This World" and "The Blast." Holding his microphone as though it were the wheel of Marcus Garvey's ship, "Black Star" (obviously the group's namesake), Kweli led the crowd through the tunes with an almost professorial control. While he did so, Bey played rap support to his comrade with a huge smile on his face. A brief tribute to Gil Scott-Heron with "We Almost Lost Detroit," was enrapturing.

While people were definitely partying, this wasn't a show full of drunken debauchery. There seemed to be a true air of excitement in the air over a few things: Both titan MCs are known for their rap composure and elegance, but while we enjoy frequent performances from Kweli throughout the year in Denver, Bey is a rarity, and people were losing their minds.

The crowd was a mix of head wraps, book-bags, party kids and riff-raff and everyone was comfortable without incident. Probably one of the most affecting moments in the show was when the duo rocked "Brown Skin Lady" and let the hook ride out a capella, encouraging the audience to "sing to the brown-skinned girls." A sea of faces sang with honey sweetness, surely making all the brown girls blush. The love fest continued with Kweli's "Never Been in Love Before," a track that will forever be one of rap's best love songs.

Like a rollercoaster ride, the second segment of the show went into full tilt when Bey parlayed his radical lyrics over some of mainstream's most favorite club joints. His freestyles over Waka's "It's a Party," Jay and Kanye's "Niggas in Paris," dubbed "Niggas in Poorest" and Tyga's "Rack City," were purposefully confrontational.

The set went for well over an hour, and the two could have gone for another hour, with the way the audience was enamored with their presence. We were treated to the hits, "Get em High," and Kweli's monster motivation single, "Get By," before Bey closed out the show with "Umi Says," to almost hyperbolic adoration from the Cervantes crowd.

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Ru Johnson
Contact: Ru Johnson

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