I’ve been very intrigued by Mos Def’s name change to his Muslim and legal name Yasiin Bey. Mostly, my intrigue comes from what impetus encouraged Bey to drop the pseudonym and share his chosen name with the world. In this article from Scott Korb, the journalist delves quite deep into Yasiin Bey’s history of hip hop and Islam. I’m not sure if there are those that believe that the MC is some fly-by-night Muslim, but that’s quite the contrary. According to Korb, Bey is one of the most recognizable Muslims in pop culture since boxing great Muhammad Ali. For anyone that has followed Ali’s career and conversion to Islam, it’s a very telling comparison. Ali was a staunch Muslim, displaying this in instances such as his refusal to join the Armed Forces. The artist formerly known as Mos Def has taken such sociopolitical stands through his music, integrating his beliefs with his passion. Although lengthy, the article is a great read and shines some light on the struggle between one’s perceived self and one’s true self.
Since last August, explaining the retirement of “the mighty Mos Def” has been part of both his solo performances and the tour with Kweli. It’s Kweli, along with Kanye West, who is a friend, whom Bey credits with helping him make the decision to proceed in his career without what now strikes him as the “artifice” of a “nom de plume.” (It’s worth pointing out that Kweli, which in Swahili means “true,” is actually the middle name of Talib Greene—so while Talib Kweli isn’t a nom de plume, exactly, he does consider it a stage name.) It hasn’t always been easy. Responding to the Alaskan crowd’s disappointment, Bey reacted like a stand-up comedian sparring with hecklers, a mode he seems quite comfortably in: “You know, some people have an emotional relationship with that name, Mos Def. So do I: I made it up.”
Performing in October with the Brooklyn Philharmonic at an event curated by WNYC’s “Soundcheck” host John Schaefer, a more serious, public-radio-friendly Bey took the stage, informing the audience that Yasiin was a name he’d “kept close to myself for a long while,” but that “many people close to me, and my intimates, and extended family and friends, have referred to me by that name for quite a while.”
The name dates back to Bey’s first trip to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj in 1998. “When he came back, he came back with the name Yasiin,” Kweli told me. “He didn’t ask anyone to call him that, but I definitely remember him saying, ‘My name is Yasiin.’”
Bringing “Yasiin” out publicly over the end of 2011—“unleash[ing] it,” as one friend put it—it became clear that over time Bey had begun to see the name “that the streets taught me,” as he told MTV, had become “something that could be boiled down into a persona. Or a product. Or a brand.” The name Yasiin Bey, on the other hand, would allow him, he told Schaefer that evening with the Brooklyn Phil, to “reassert my own humanness.”
This makes sense to the producer Anas Canon, founder of Remarkable Current, an independent media collective known for its relationship with Muslim artists and its international Hip Hop Ambassadors program, sponsored by the State Department. Canon has always known Bey as “Yasiin,” going back to the first Black Star tour. Over the years Canon has produced three tracks with Bey, including Amir Sulaiman’s “When I Die (Rebuild),” recorded at Bey’s Toronto home and released on Sulaiman’s 2007 Like a Thief in the Night. Convinced Bey is “100% committed to spiritual refinement,” Canon asked, rhetorically, “Why would a grown man go by a code name?”
Read the rest of the article in its entirety here.