Musician Yasiin Bey Teams Up With Artists José Parlá, Julie Mehretu, and Others for a Show Dedicated to His Latest Album at the Brooklyn Museum

The musician formerly known as Mos Def is inching further into the art world with his latest project, a so-called "listening installation."

yasiin bey, Alämayyähu and yasiin (2015). Courtesy of The Third Line. © The Third Line.

The recording artist formerly known as Mos Def, Yasiin Bey, is continuing his crossover into the fine art world. Bey’s latest album is more like a work of art than a traditional musical release: it can only be experienced in person, and its United States debut will be held at the Brooklyn Museum starting next month.

Billed as a so-called “listening installation,” the album, Negus, is 28 minutes and contains eight tracks. Bey is careful to clarify that it is not exactly sound art, but it also won’t be available on any other digital or analogue platforms. The musician wants the music to be experienced without any distraction, so visitors to the Brooklyn Museum will be required to keep their phones in a sealed case that can only be opened by museum staff.

The release of Negus coincides with the 20th anniversary of Black on Both Sides, Mos Def’s seminal debut album, which launched his solo career as what Pitchfork deemed “hip-hop’s messiah of ’99.” More recently, he has delved more into the fine art sector: In August 2018, Bey opened an art gallery called The Compound in the South Bronx along with advertising exec Free Richardson.

Negus will also embrace visual art. While music plays throughout the galleries, viewers can take in work by visual artists Ala Ebtekar, Julie Mehretu, and José Parlá created in collaboration with Bey.

Free Richardson and Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def).

The title of Negus is a reference to the word “king” or “ruler” in the ancient Ethiopian Semitic language Ge’ez, and Bey’s lyrics reference those he considers noble, especially within the African American community, like Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells were used by doctors and scientists to create the first immortalized human cell line without her knowledge or consent; the slain rapper Nipsey Hussle; and the young Ethiopian Prince Alämayyähu Tewodros, who was taken to Victorian England ca. 1868 by British soldiers who ransacked his family’s palace—Alämayyähu died alone in Leeds, and for decades Ethiopia has been calling for the Queen to return his body to his homeland, to no avail.

Though Negus has been presented internationally—at Art Basel in Hong Kong in March and at the Dubai-based Third Line Gallery, which is also helping to organize this presentation—the US debut is particularly special. Bey grew up in the nearby Bed-Stuy neighborhood, and one of the tracks on Black on Both Sides is a love letter to the borough called “Brooklyn.”

yasiin Bey: negus” is on view at the Brooklyn Museum from November 15, 2019–January 26, 2020

Timed tckets to “yasiin bey: Negus” are available through Showclix, via the Brooklyn Museum; same day, on-site tickets will be released on a first-come, first-served basis. 

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