Last night, Yasiin Bey (the artist formally known as Mos Def) announced his 5th surprise Montreal show in less than 2 weeks. However, unlike his previous appearances in the city, he would not be rapping at this one.
“Happy Birthday! Shut Up.“ serves as the rapper’s first attempt at entering the realm of stand-up comedy. The event was held at Montreal’s lush and forever innovative Phi Centre, allowing Bey to perform his set in an intimate setting along with reaping the benefits of the venue’s phenomenal sound.
The show kicked off with an hour and a half DJ set from Kaytranada, who took some time from his hectic world tour to open for a man who is without a doubt an influence on his career. The set contained a blend of throwback R&B, futuristic lo-fi and hard hitting Hip-Hop.
Although Bey was set to come on at 9:30pm, the man himself makes an announcement via the speakers that he would be running a bit late, a move that can’t help but make one believe he is most likely nervous for the show.
At about 10 past 10:00pm, Yasiin hits the stage and is immediately greeted by an eager crowd. Although Bey is 40 minutes late (a “Real Hip-Hop move” as he would later go on to describe it), the audience don’t seem to have lost any of their patience. The show kicks off with a less than fantastic drum solo from Bey, sounding more or less equivalent to a 9th grader jamming out in his parents’ garage.
After the hellos and thank you’s, Bey gets right into the jokes. The set starts off with a topic that is all too familiar to the rapper: Hip-Hop. The beginning of the set features the more poignant yet brief jokes, ones with memorable lines like “Rap is like Donald Trump if he were black” and the Christ praising “Y’all n*ggas like Drake, I like Jesus”.
“Rap is like Donald Trump if he were black” – Yasiin Bey
The set goes on with Bey giving his two cents on topical urban issues like the Drake vs. Meek Mill beef, his obsession with WorldStarHipHop and a topic that seemed to be an infatuation of his (as it was reoccurring throughout the night), the legend that is Mr. Kanye West and his lack of tolerance with the paparazzi. The show itself is named after the following clip of Kanye telling a cameraman to “Shut up” after being wished a happy birthday:
Aside from sharing his views on Kanye’s annoyance with fame and the culture that comes with it, the Blackstar emcee also details his own personal frustrations regarding his public persona and being approached by fans. One particular story that stands out is about a screaming fan who stopped him on the street to ask for a picture when he was simply trying to have a peaceful day alone with his 2 year old son.
The moments in which he talks about his family are by far the most humanizing moments of the show. Clearly, there is a lot of love in this man’s heart. Whether he talks about his brother, son or other members of his clan, all of the family-related farces seem to hit it big with the crowd.
Other stand-out moments from the show include an extremely dark joke surrounding police brutality in America (“Sorry that [us African Americans] got in front of your bullets, I know that they’re expensive”), difficulties with changing his name (citing many people using Coming To America‘s “His momma named him Mos, imma call him Mos”) and the “rumour” of Wiz Khalifa taking Caitlyn Jenner on a date (after taking her home and getting intimate, Khalifa exclaims “Hold up hold up, you’re a boy!”).
“Sorry that [us African Americans] got in front of your bullets, I know that they’re expensive.”
An hour into the set, Bey takes some time to reflect on the evening. “This is a very special moment for me”, says the rapper while maintaining a jokingly deadpan facial expression. Bey goes on to cite Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce and Dick Gregory as a few of his influences, always being fascinated by their ability to captivate a crowd. He recalls a failed attempt of stand-up at age 19, calling tonight the return from his “little break”. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do”, says Bey.
Bey concludes the set with what he called “the greatest story on the face of the earth”, a tale of a trip he took to Manilla with his brother in which the rapper refereed a “midget boxing match”. Although it seems good on paper, the story could have easily been told in under 5 minutes, instead goes on for 20 and generally loses the crowd’s attention.
Before picking up the drum sticks once again for an egregious jam session with Kaytranada, Yasiin hands out over a dozen flowers to females in the crowd, a move that was certainly more memorable than some of his jokes.
For the time being, Yasiin Bey should stick to his day job. Although the show had some great moments in its first half, there was not any material that was drop dead hilarious. Aside from the rambling of forgettable life stories towards the end, Bey also failed to maintain a consistent pace and tone throughout the show, often going somewhere deep and less laugh out loud after a cheap giggle with a foolish topic.
To be fair, this was the rapper’s first comedy show. Bey definitely has some potential, although there is still a tremendous need of improvement that will be needed before he could potentially be doing this seriously.