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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Rapper Mos Def makes it personal

The politically minded singer interrupts show's flow with criticism of Death Row chief Marion 'Suge' Knight.

November 05, 2005|Soren Baker | Special to The Times

The talented, politically minded rapper Mos Def has gained more acclaim for his work as an actor in such films as "Something the Lord Made" and "The Italian Job" than for his music in the last several years, but he turned in a smooth, engaging 45-minute set as the headliner of the Breed Love Odyssey Tour on Thursday at the Gibson Amphitheater -- with the exception of one jarring momentum-breaker.

The jarring moment came when Mos Def took a jab at Marion "Suge" Knight, the controversial head of Death Row Records. The svelte and far-from-intimidating rapper said he was looking for Knight and wanted to know "who shot my man?"

He was referring to former Death Row Records artist Tupac Shakur, who was shot and killed while riding in a car with Knight in Las Vegas in 1996. A widely circulated theory holds that Knight was involved in the murder of his marquee artist, but almost no one from the rap community has come out publicly to question Knight about it as Mos Def did Thursday. It was all the more surprising given Mos Def's image as someone who champions rap music, not someone looking to tussle with a figure as intimidating as Knight.

The set began in a less confrontational fashion as the Brooklyn rapper, wearing a white bathrobe and a black polka-dot hat, strolled on stage to join Talib Kweli, his friend and collaborator in the duo Black Star, as Kweli performed his stirring perseverance mantra "Get By."

Mos Def seamlessly picked up on the energy from Kweli's efficient, 25-minute performance. As images of and slogans from Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. were projected on four screens near the stage, Mos Def passionately rapped and sang as he paid homage to the rich musical legacy of blacks on "Ghetto Rock." The intense performance was a testimony of his artistry and his captivating brand of rebel music.

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