It’s been a tough year for Yasiin Bey, the rapper formerly known as Mos Def, who now also wants to be known as a former rapper. He was arrested in South Africa last January for trying to leave the country with a “world passport.” He had been living in Cape Town since 2013 and had been prevented from leaving with those papers for a U.S. tour in 2014 after a visitor’s permit expired. Now he’s been banned from that country for five years.
Nonetheless, he’s hanging up his performing life at 43—not only in hip-hop, where he’s built a solid career of brainy, nimble, conscious rap with wide-ranging backing music—but in acting as well, in films from Something the Lord Made to Be Kind Rewind.
Before he goes, he has a few things to say and has released the first of what he says will be three final albums, December 99th, last month. More significantly, he scheduled a pair of farewell concerts at the Apollo and three at the Kennedy Center.
There’s no explanation why he’d choose the staid D.C. arts center for his final stand that began New Year’s Eve and continued until January 2. But it seemed to underscore both the high level of his art and its high-minded purposes.
As he half-sung, quite convincingly, his songs of social struggle, he recalled the figure of hometown hero Marvin Gaye who helped open the Kennedy Center with his What’s Going On? tour nearly 45 years ago. But his final performance Monday, fraught as it was with history, was also a lot of fun and as solid a hip-hop showcase as you’d hope for.