As impatient young people who grew up in an era of instantaneity, we are constantly bombarded with clichés like “good things take time”, or “it’ll be better soon”; In other words, “shut up and wait.”
Generally speaking, these phrases are thrown around in reference to fine wine or the resell value of #rare Nikes. However in some cases, a person’s style can not only evolve, but also significantly improve with years of experience.
Case in point: The untouchable Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) absolutely killing the fashion game at 40. Seriously, is there any look this man can’t pull off with that recognisable, inimitable swag? The beauty in his aesthetic is that it’s cool without evident effort; it’s him without needing to be showy. In the last 2-3 years (basically since he started publicly declaring himself ‘Yasiin’ rather than ‘Mos’) he has truly emerged in fashionable circles as an unexpected icon.
His style is a beautiful fusion of various influences that are equal parts obvious and subtle. While a bohemian and tribal sway are immediately apparent, there is also an underlying sartorial layer which drips class, elegance, and an ever-youthful cool. The real winning element in his look is this hard-to-define, subtle quality – The most fashionable people attract our attention because we can’t figure out why they look so damn good.
I’ve been rocking with Mos since 1999 when my big brother showed me Black Star (Mos + Talib). I was instantly crushing in a big way and although the unforgiving years have aged us both, the love hasn’t changed at all.
Every era of the artist formerly known as Mos Def has given us some unforgettable looks; looks we can draw inspiration from, even today.
1992: Before he was even a twinkle in the industries eyes, a young Dante could be found freestyling at local radio rocking a crazy baby blue baseball jersey meets purple snapback ensemble. Wait, doesn’t bright purple and baby blue clash? – On you or I? Yes. On Mos Def? No.
[Irrelevant side note: “You’re what makes us go round like a reel to reel” is going to be my new catch phrase.]
1996 – 1999 (Early rap career & the rise of Black Star): As a pivotal figure in late 90’s New York hip hop, Mos Def proudly wore his borough – Brooklyn – like a uniform. Think windbreakers, hoodies, baggy jeans, caps, bucket hats, polos, bombers, coach jackets, and converse – Basically all the trends that are having their moment right now.
Post Black Star (2000 & Beyond): After Black Star disbanded, Mos embarked on a very successful solo career. At first his music stayed close to the golden sound of rap he and Talib were known for, but as time went on he started to experiment with different sounds, fusing other genres of music atop this strong foundation of hip hop. He began to incorporate a more distinguishable melodic quality to his sound and often added unexpected and obscure instruments to the production. This is the time period wherein he created the unique sound he would later be known for.
His acting career also took off post 2000, which meant that voice, name, and face, travelled far beyond just music circles and infiltrated the mainstream. During this time, his style took a noticeable turn toward a slightly more unconventional, albeit polished aesthetic.
He has never been one to shy away from projecting an alternative perspective whether it be through his music or clothing and this era of Mos gave us fedoras, flat caps (special mention to Common), suit blazers, denim, and crazy shades.
2012 – Infinity: In the last few years, Yasiin has really moved ahead of the pack to become synonymous with the idea of style – It is no easy feat to gain the respect of fashion publications like GQ while staying true to your roots and wearing clothing that demonstrates who you are in a distinctive way. Today his look is heavily influenced by African culture, likely due in part to his relocation to South Africa. There is also a tailored element which is as classic as it is current; sophisticated as well as radical. It is rare nowadays to catch him without a head covering of some sort , whether it be a 5 panel, fedora, flat cap, or panama hat – He is always all class.
Whatever you call him, Yasiin has kept our interest over 20 years because he is constantly evolving not only his art but also his personal style. He isn’t afraid to move from rapping, to singing, to acting, to DJ-ing, and beyond. There is an unapologetic fearlessness in everything he does, and it’s that quality which will ensure he stays on our radar.
Every time I see an image of modern Mos, the look on his face seems to smugly say, “I’m never gonna be irrelevant” – He’s exempt from time and age because he will never lose his cool.