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Yasiin Bey goes in for “Black On Both Sides” 20th anniversary

October is the anniversary month of Black on Both Sides by Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def. It was his first solo record, released in 1999, which launched his career and told the world who he was and what he was about. He honored the album’s 20th anniversary with a concert at UC Berkeley’s Greek Theater on Oct. 25, where he and all his favorites performed and paid homage to the music they love: hip-hop. This year’s lineup was a year of classics, with Souls of Mischief, Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu and Slick Rick for one night at The Greek Theater. 

It was a night to remember, filled with the best of hip-hop that reminds you why you fell in love with it in the first place. Following the history, at its core, hip-hop has never been about the bravado and fly apparel, it’s about an artistslove for a medium that calls on them to speak about their experience and share it with the world. At the Black on Both Sides 20th Anniversary, the performers created moments to lose yourself in, then catch yourself again just to realize how lucky you are to stand where you do. The whole theater felt that––from the tears Busta Rhymes shed to the way Mr. Bey floated across the stage. 


At this show, one could feel a kinship of common experience embracing the theater. These artists shared their stories and people came to hear them because they could relate in their own lives. That was especially true in Busta Rhymes’ performance with his life-long friend since the age of ten, Spliff Star. The whole theater shouted lines to infamous Busta Rhymes hits from the ’90s to the 00s.

Toward the end of the performance, the audience got to hear about why Rhymes and Star love hip-hop. They said that it all came down to the fact that it kept them together, kept them true to themselves and was an outlet to connect to the world around them. The duo ended on the lesson that nothing is promised in life, so you must love and you must enjoy life as it comes. 

When Badu arrived, an air of mutual appreciation flooded the audience and stage. She profusely thanked the crowd for all they have done for her. She began to recount all the ways her dreams have come true and she wished the same upon her listeners, that all their dreams manifest in their lives.

“We only get this life, you must follow that fire that burns for whatever it is you love, and if you haven’t found it yet, don’t stop till you do,” she said.

To Badu, there is no life better lived than one where passions are found and nourished, where people make it their life’s work to love what they do and allow that to lead them to some of the best joys in life. She explained that it doesn’t matter if everyone praises you for it, because when you do you, and you do that well, you find that you get what you need and then some. 

To close out the show, Bey stepped on to stage with a bouquet of flowers–a longtime tradition of his that he does every show. It was full of red, white and pink roses. He set the bouquet down behind him and picked the petals off one by one, and spread them across the stage with every advancing step. He performed each song from the album and would circle the stage with a sway that had a bop to it. Simply put, he’s just so hip-hop. There were moments in his show where a smile would appear on his face; he lit up as if he was 10 years old again and having fun. He took a moment to express his appreciation of the crowd’s energy and presence at the show. He shook his head in awe of the crowd and their reception of his performance. In disbelief yet filled with love, Bey raised his left fist up to the sky with his right hand draped over his heart, clenching his microphone.

Bey is known for his thoughtful approach to rap, which many label “conscious rap”-a way of writing lyrics focused around prevalent issues. The content of Black On Both Sides focuses on the corruption of water through severe commodification and ties to the U.S. government. Bey also touches on the various vulnerabilities that arise when you’re Black and not affluent, reminiscences of dreams he held growing up in Brooklyn and what living in Brooklyn meant from his eyes. That is what Bey breaks down in his art. He testifies to those experiences and thoughts, and in doing so provides lessons for the crowd and all listeners to understand. 

Before leaving the stage he invited Badu back to perform “Ms. Fat Booty” with him, and then closed out to “My Umi Says,” both popular songs off of the album. He proceeded back to the bouquet and began handing the roses to crowd members before him. Yasiin Bey, Souls of Mischief, Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu and Slick Rick created a night of magic for the people.