Def and dumb, but definitely not blind
June 20, 2007, Mezzanine
Better Than: Def Poetry Jam
Download: Mos Def interviewing Al Gore
Mos Def -- the Brooklyn-born rapper, actor and host of the HBO series Def Poetry Jam -- played two shows in San Francisco this week (Tuesday at Ruby Skye and last night at Mezzanine). The performances were announced early Monday evening, yet the short notice didn’t prevent what felt like over-capacity crowds, particularly at Mezzanine.
At Mezzanine, Def, whose given name is Dante Smith, bounded out on stage clad in sunglasses, baseball cap and backpack -- a wry poke at early career assessments of him as a “backpack rapper”.
“Thank you for your time . . . and thank you for your money as well,” he said. “We don’t want to take either for granted this evening.” With relatively recent legal woes well known, the statement had a sharp ring of sincerity.
He dedicated the show to the “SF 8”, the name given to the eight former Black Panthers presently incarcerated in San Francisco on murder charges that are, according to supporters, “based on confessions extracted by torture.” Not only is Def an activist with broad-based concerns, he’s also well-read; he co-owned the now defunct Nkiru Books, once Brooklyn’s most vital African-American bookstore, with sometime recording partner Talib Kweli.
As his set progressed and he had covered most of his most recognizable tunes (Black Star’s “Definition” and solo cuts like “Ghetto Rock” and “Ms. Fat Booty”), Def teased up all-too brief bits of songs he announced as new and exclusive, and got looser—a hip-hop Dean Martin of sorts. He spoke of the possibility of hosting The Price is Right with pal Dave Chappelle as the theme song from Jeopardy filled the speakers.
“I don’t know what quarter it’s coming out,” he admitted, speaking about the release of his next album.
“But I’m writing all the time,” he quickly added.
Before Def, the crowd got dumb—which is local “Yay Area” parlance for going wild on the dance floor—thanks to a DJ set by Big Von, a radio personality on local urban radio station KMEL. Von probably did more to get the crowd there than anything else simply by hyping up the concert on his show since early Monday evening.
He astutely preyed on the crowd’s fondness for local anthems, reaching back for tunes like Souls of Mischief’s “93 ‘Til Infinity” and mixing them with songs from more recent years, such as Mac Dre’s “Feelin’ Myself”. He also served up mini-medleys of songs by artists like Wu-Tang Clan and Snoop Dogg, but was woefully short on the Tupac, only offering up little snippets of “I Get Around” (the rapper in his happiest Bay Area years) and “Hit ‘Em Up” (the less whimsical song that fueled the deadly feud with Notorious B.I.G.).
With LA rap legends Quik and AMG (who now go by the Fixxers rocking Mezzanine on Monday night, the club has had a tremendous week of peaceful hip-hop shows. It’s an encouraging sign for a city that seems to be ever more steadily dipping its toes into the genre. --Tamara Palmer
Personal Bias: Vertical challenges plus moderate claustrophobia don’t exactly guarantee the best vantage point in the house.
Random Detail: The sing-happy crowd seemed to know most of the words to Dr. Dre’s relatively obscure “Fuck You,” but not to his hood classic “Bitches Ain’t Shit.”
By the way: Bail hearing for the “SF 8” is open to the public and scheduled for 10 a.m. today (Thursday, June 21, 2007) at 850 Bryant Street, San Francisco.