Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def postpones tour, rumors abound
Historian discusses name change, fans concerned
By Zenobia Jeffries
The Michigan Citizen
Popular hip hop recording artist, stage and film actor Yasiin Bey, formerly known to the world as Mos Def, recently made headlines with reports that his upcoming U.S. tour had been postponed for reasons unknown.
Promoters of the Boston show, where Bey’s tour was to kick off, caused controversy when they announced, last week, the postponement was due to Bey having been denied entry into the country by U.S. Immigration.
The unverified account had fans speculating about the rapper’s current legal status.
Yasiin Bey, born Dante Terrell Smith in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1973, has been living in South Africa since 2009.
In 2012, he changed his stage name from Mos Def to Yasiin Bey, which he has publicly stated he has been called among friends and family since 1999.
Bey made the switch to erase separation between his stage persona and his personal identity, he has said in interviews.
Bey converted to Islam as a teenager and he later took on the name Yasiin, in refernce to the opening syllables of Surah 36 of the Qur’an. The name Bey is common in the Muslim faith. It means “governor of the earth.” El (meaning “center of wisdom,” short for the Hebrew word “Elohim”) and Ali (the Arabic word for “noble”) are also common Islamic names.
The names Bey, El and Ali are also common among groups in the U.S. whose members call themselves Moors. The various groups — Washitaw Nation, Nuwabian Nation, Moorish American National Government — are offshoots of the Moorish Science Temple of America, founded in 1913 by Noble Drew Ali. Although the members are Black Americans they do not identify as such — or as African Americans, but as Moors or Asiactics.
The MSTA taught Blacks in America that their ancestors inhabited Northwest (specifically Morocco) and Southwest Africa before they were enslaved in North America.
Some groups do not believe they are the descendants of enslaved Africans but believe their ancestors were the indigenous people of this land, now called the United States, and consider themselves to be a sovereign nation, not subject to local and state laws, but have treaties similar to Native Americans who deal directly with the federal government in legal matters.
The MSTA does not hold this belief, according to their official website.
While Moors do not renounce their citizenship, they declare their nationality is Moorish American. Part of their claim is that — similar to Native Americans, the land in the U.S. is theirs, says historian Jamon Jordan, founder of the Black Scroll Network History and Tours.
But, Jordan says, there is no treaty that designates Blacks to be a separate nation. The Moorish nation appeals to some Blacks, he says, for reasons that include the rejection of slavery — a lot of Black people are ashamed to be connected to slavery — and exemption from legal financial obligations, such as taxes, contracts, liens and other debts, including child support.
Jordan, who has done some research on hip hop and hip hop personalities has been following the reports of Bey’s rumored immigration issues.
“He is not a Moor,” Jordan says. “Mos Def, Yasiin Bey is Muslim, Sunni Muslim.” Jordan says he hasn’t come across anything that indicates Bey has made claims of being sovereign or has renounced his U.S. citizenship.
“The government (could say) because of the Bey name we’re going to treat you suspiciously,” says Jordan.
Or it could be financial.
In 2006, then known as Mos Def, the rapper/actor reportedly fell behind in financial child support payments. A judge ordered him to increase payments by $2,000 per month to his estranged wife for their two children. He had been paying $8,000.
He told the judge he couldn’t afford to pay the $10,000, initially ordered when his wife filed for divorce because of his financial obligations to his other children, in addition to his financial business commitments, according to a United Press International report. Bey has a total of eight children.
Federal law mandates any person who owes child support in an amount greater than $2,500 will be denied a U.S. passport until the matter is resolved. Also, if a person already has a passport, the U.S. government can revoke, restrict or limit its use. This may or may not be the case with Bey, says Jordan.
Bey has made headlines in the past for his political views, some have called unpatriotic.
Most recently was his criticism of the Obama Administration when last summer a video was released showing Bey being force fed in an attempt to expose the suffering of prisoners on hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay. Obama had promised while campaigning in in 2008 that he would close the detention facility at Guantánamo.
Representatives for Yasiin Bey have yet to make an official statement as to why the tour was postponed.
Steve Furay contributed to this article.