Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) reflects on the legacy of Malcolm X


Jamel Shabazz

Photo by Jamel Shabazz


To commemorate the 90th birthday of Malcolm X on Tuesday (May 19, 2015), Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) speaks on the significance of Malcolm X today, especially for those who Bey says are “…poor, or hungry, or hunted.”

Taken from an interview with Yasiin Bey shot in Paris with curator Sohail Daulatzai for the exhibit Return of the Mecca: The Art of Islam and Hip-Hop, and accompanied with the soulful boom-bap of beatmaker/MC Oddisee, Yasiin Bey poignantly reflects on the lasting influence of Malcolm X, whom he calls a “style icon, political thinker, and philosopher.”


More of the interview with Yasiin Bey is included in the 120-page commemorative book, which also features a commissioned essay by Chuck D, images from legendary hip-hop photographers Jamel Shabazz, Ernie Paniccioli, B+, Cognito, and Katina Parker, as well as album cover art, flyers and other ephemera.

Return of the Mecca: The Art of Islam and Hip-Hop is a traveling exhibit that showcases how hip-hop culture, from its very foundation until today, has been deeply influenced by its relationship to Islam. The exhibition debuted last October at the William Grant Still Arts Center for the city-wide Los Angeles Islamic Arts Initiative.

Rakim, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, the Roots, Ice Cube, the Wu-Tang Clan, Mos Def, Lupe Fiasco, and Jay Electronica are some of the biggest artists in hip-hop. Guided by figures such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, as well as the influence of Islam on jazz and the Black Arts Movement of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, and on to hip-hop’s Golden Age, and up until today, these Muslim artists and many others are connected to the larger world of Islam. Reflected in everything from LP and cassette artwork and titles, to lyrics and samples to advocating personal, social and political uplift, hip-hop has been deeply influenced by the Nation of Islam, the Five Percent Nation, and Islam in the African diaspora.

The exhibit showcases a chronology of items documenting a nearly 70-year history that at its root and beyond interweaves jazz, soul, hip-hop, and Islam. A central component is dedicated to hip-hop’s foundations of the jazz and spoken word artists from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, with materials on Yusef Lateef, Art Blakey, Ahmad Jamal, Gil Scott-Heron, Amiri Baraka, and others. A loop of Golden Age music videos, a never before seen short film of Jay Electronica at the Pyramids in Egypt and performing in the Middle East, as well as rare concert footage is also exhibited, curated with a focus on Los Angeles, but not forgetting contributions from important hip-hop centers Chicago, New York, and Philly. Over 200 album covers and cassette J-cards and shells are compiled wall-to-wall in a room dedicated to an assembled collection spanning the early 1980s through present. Foundational artists Gang Starr, Black Star, Brand Nubian, Queen Latifah, Poor Righteous Teachers, Jurassic 5, Digable Planets, Big Daddy Kane, and Intelligent Hoodlum are on display, along with recent contemporaries Freeway and Beanie Sigel, and current artists like Jay Electronica and Oddisee.

Check Wax Poetics Issue 61 for an article written Sohail Daulatzai that details the connection between hip-hop and Islam, and keep an eye out for an extended version of the piece online in the coming weeks.

For more info, visit returnofthemecca.com.


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