A Concert Culture Clinic: Mos Def Ecstatic in Japan

It’s been out a few weeks, but this weekend I finally got around to seeing Current TV’s Embedded series. This episode features hip hop emcee/poet/actor Mos Def.

The reason that I’m sharing this with you is because Mos Def’s latest album Ecstatic has been one of my favorite albums of the year–and it’s probably one of the best hip hop albums of 2009. Watching this Current TV Embedded episode took me deeper into the meaning and inspiration of the album but more specifically it showed me how Mos Def is transforming Ecstatic during concerts in front of international audiences.

I loved watching Mos Def overcome the cultural divide as he continued to mirror and celebrate hip hop’s influence on Japanese culture. 

Keeping it seamless, during both the performance and interviews you get to see how his thoughts and actions play out as he deepens the connection with the crowd by mixing in cultural references via new live versions from the album.

But are all artists as def as Mos?

“It’s great to be back in [insert your city here] !”

Sure, it’s cool when an artist gives a shout out to the city their playing during the show. 

But when an artist comes to Chicago I often wonder to what lengths they’ve gone to make the culture their performing in more of a genuine part of their show. 

And that’s what this Embedded episode shows so well.  You get to see how Mos Def melds his experiences and the fun he’s having on the streets of Japan with his live performance. It shows how you can’t have one without the other. It’s also speaks to the importance of incorporating elements of that crowd’s culture into the live show and why that’s so crucial if an artist wants to truly connect with the fans.

That said, I can always tell the difference between when an artist who’s just giving a wrote city shout-out during a show and when their sharing a genuine expression because they’ve taken the time to soak up Chicago in some way and make it a part of their show.  When that genuine moment happens it always adds a special element to the show taking it deeper into the heart of the audience.

If you can’t tell by now, the Mos Def Embedded episode had me acting all silly, giddy and head-bopping on a Sunday afternoon–even more than when I saw this video of him performing “Quiet Dog Bite Hard” on David Letterman earlier this year.

I hope you enjoy watching Embedded as much as I did.  And hopefully I’ll get a chance to see him when he comes through Chicago.  


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