Mos Def On Last Call With Carson Daly On Monday

visited Last Call with Carson Daly on Monday night to talk about his Broadway role in ‘Topdog/Underdog’, and later read some rhymes he wrote a capella. For a transcript to the chat, read on.

Carson: Please welcome world-renowned lyricist Mos Def. Thank
you for being here, Mos Def.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Carson: Nice to have you here. Listen, I wanna talk to you about —
get everybody up to speed quickly of what’s going on. “Topdog/underdog”
is a production that’s happening on broadway that everybody’s talking about,
this play that you are in. And I want you to — since we’re gonna spend
a lot of time talking about it, first of all — when we think of theater
— when I think of theater, I think of “cats” and, like, those big broadway
productions. Yours is not. Yours is a room. It’s two guys. It’s very simple.

Mos Def: It’s not the standard fare. What’s happening with “Topdog,”
“Topdog” is not your standard broadway fare. I guess, for the last, you
know, decade, it’s been mostly dominated by musicals and such. Broadway
used to be about new plays and new musicals. It’s kinda going through a
transition phase now, I think. With a piece like “urine town,” which is,
you know, edgy. You know, different. You know, dark comedy. Just away from
the standard fare. And I think — you know, they adjusted the vision among
all of the artists in media. Just, like, people wanna do things that are,
you know, fresh and new. And people that just wanna, you know, take the
safe road don’t have much of an appetite for risks.

Carson: This is the real deal, though. People might think, you know,
Mos Def on broadway, it’s just, you know, maybe some sort of sideshow,
small production sort of deal. This is the real deal. This won the pulitzer
prize, 2002, for drama.

Mos Def: Yeah, it’s the real deal.

Carson: Which is like the nobel peace prize for literature.

Mos Def: Well, it’s a pretty big deal. It’s the first time that a black
woman has ever won a pulitzer for drama.

[ Applause ] And — I mean, aside from all of that, it’s just a brilliant
play. You know, it’s just a brilliant piece of literature. It’s a brilliant
piece of entertainment. It’s a — it’s a gift to be able to, every night,
to say those words.

Carson: It’s Mos Def and a great actor, jeffrey wright, who plays your
brother in this. Let’s show everybody —

Mos Def: Give it up.

[ Applause ]

Carson: — Just a bit of “Topdog/underdog.” Watch this.

Mos Def: She gives you her number. She asks for yours. You give her
your number, the phone number of your home, thereby telling her three things
— one, you got a home.

[ Laughter ] You ain’t no smooth-talkin’, smooth-dressin’ homeless joe.
Two, that you are in possession of a telephone, and a working telephone
number, which is to say that you’ve got the cash and the wherewithal to
acquire for your own self the world’s most revolutionary communication
apparatus, and you’re together enough to pay your bills.

Mos Def: What’s three?

Mos Def: You give her your number, you tell her that it is cool to call
if she should so please. That is, you ain’t got no wife or no wife approximation
on the premises.

[ Laughter ]

Carson: There you go.

[ Cheers and applause ] “Topdog/underdog” is the production. From watching
that, you can’t really tell the period that this is in. The clothes look
vintage and throwback, yet the dialogue is modern.

Mos Def: They look cheap.

[ Light laughter ]

Carson: Like, what year does this take place?

Mos Def: Well, you know, susan says in the play that the setting for
the play is here and now. And the great thing about here and now is that
herend now is always here and now. And — so — in that essence, “Topdog”
is timely and timeless, at the same time. It makes references to a lot
of different time periods. And it’s definitely a modern play. But, I mean,
you know, this is the type of thing that could’ve been happening in early
20th century, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s. Sometimes the set looks like it’s from,
you know, the 1800s.

Carson: Right. I don’t wanna give away the play, but what’s the symbolism

Mos Def: Please don’T.

Carson: — Of your character?

[ Light laughter ] Your character’s name is booth.

And my brother’s name is lincoln.

Carson: And your brother is lincoln.

Mos Def: Well, for me, in history, historically, lincoln and booth were
brothers. Because they were americans. But they were two — they were americans
at opposite ends of the spectrum. Lincoln was a union man. Booth was a
confederate man. And they both were — very dogged about making a place
in history for themselves, making a very determined statement about who
they were, politically.

Carson: A lot of the play revolves around three-card monte, a hustle.

Mos Def: Yes.

Carson: What exactly is three-card monte?

Mos Def: Well, from what I saw on the discovery channel —

[ Laughter ] From what I understand, three-card monte is a card game
that started in spain. I think it’s a town called monte. That’s why they
call it three-card monte. And, basically, it’s — it seems like an innocent
card game, at first.

Carson: But they do it still today on the streets. And it’s just like
a giant hustle for tourism, right? They’re makin’ — they’re just makin’

Mos Def: Well, they makin’ money, but the deal is that it’s really quite

Carson: Who plays three-card monte?

Mos Def: Well, you know, tourists.

[ Light laughter ] And people who doubt that — people who don’t believe
that it’s a sleight-of-hand trick.

Carson: Can you just show me exactly what’s goin’ on here? What do you
need? You need —

Mos Def: Well, what happens — you need three cards.

Carson: I’m gonna rob every friend I have blind tomorrow with three-card
monte. They’re all from ohio.

Mos Def: I can’t teach you exactly, but what happens is — well, these
are kings. These aren’t bad. I guess I’ll do it right here.

Carson: So you have three cards. You have to have two blacks and one

Mos Def: — And you have — you got two black cards and one red —

Carson: Hold on — camera. Someone comin’ over here and shootin’ this?
Yeah, hustle me. Come on.

[ Light laughter ] I ain’t worth much.

>>E’e’ll pull the chairs back here. Can we?

Carson: Yeah, go ahead. I don’t care.

Mos Def: I come and rearrange your furniture and everything. All right.

Carson: All right. Come on, what do you need?

Mos Def: All right, you got two black cards, one red card.

Carson: Okay.

Mos Def: One card, two card, three card — watch. Look out — see where
the red card stops. Black deuce. Black deuce. Red deuce. Win.

Carson: Got you, got you.

Mos Def: $10 will get you $20. Who got money to spend?

Carson: I got you right here.

Mos Def: Show the cards. Wants to show ’em once again. Cards are face-down.
Just move ’em around.

Carson: Red.

Mos Def: One good pick’ll get you in. Two good picks, and you’re gonna
win. See the red card?

Carson: Nope.

Mos Def: See the red card?

Carson: Nope.

Mos Def: Who see the red card?

Carson: Not me.

[ Laughter ] I have no idea.

Mos Def: That was the black.

Carson: What?!

Mos Def: That was the black, right there.

Carson: So when they play — so —

Mos Def: So what happens is that people think that it’s really a hand-speed
game, but there’s so many different mechanics to the three-card monte thing.
Jeff is really excellent at it.

Carson: And in the play, he plays the master at this, and you’re sort
of aspiring to be as good as him.

Mos Def: Yes, I’m aspiring, even now.

[ Light laughter ] And it’s a really very interesting game. There’s
something kinda magical and spooky just about cards, in general.

Carson: Or losing.

Mos Def: Yeah, well —

[ Light laughter ] It depends on what side of the table you’re on.

Carson: When you’re in a hustle — like, if this is goin’ on — you
grew up in brooklyn. I don’t know how much —

Mos Def: Yeah.

Carson: When this is going on, would they dump some games on purpose
for their — to buy themselves credibility?

Mos Def: Usually —

Carson: You can’t win everything.

Mos Def: You can’t win every game. And usually the people that you think
are the just unwitting participants are all a part of a crew.

Carson: Right.

Mos Def: There’s a dealer. There are people inside the game that you
can’t see.

Carson: They got lookout guys who are looking for the cops. And they
got hand signals.

Mos Def: They got side guys.

Carson: 20 blocks away. 5-0-5-0.

[ Laughter ] They pick it up, throw it in their pocket, and they’re

Mos Def: And they’re out, yeah. And it used to be, you know, very —
very dominant in new york culture. Maybe now that giuliani’s gone, it’ll
come back. I don’t know. Maybe you’ll see —

[ Light laughter ] Maybe you’ll see bloomberg out there throwin’ out

[ Light laughter ] But it’s a really interesting game. And it’s sort
of magical in the sense that — I mean, it is a con, but there’s — I find
myself really wanting to learn how to do it. And the thing about it, too,
is that the guys that really know how to do it, they don’t wanna show you.
Because there’s a — there’s a very powerful draw of being able to, you
know, fool people with the speed —

Carson: That’s what’s interesting to me, is that it’s so simple.

Mos Def: It’s so simple, but —

Carson: Yet it’s a metaphor for something so much greater, of like this
cat and mouse, domination and control.

Mos Def: Yeah.

Carson: Does your play — does it have that same sort of tone throughout
it, even though this is just a simple sort of card trick?

Mos Def: Well, I think that the play is aptly named “Topdog/underdog,”
and I think that dynamic of who is Topdog and who is underdog always changes
in personal relationships, professional relationships.

Carson: Right.

Mos Def: Family, family relationships. Don’t go out — don’t let me
see you out there on 42nd —

Carson: See the red card? Watch the red card go. Where it’s gonna go,
nobody knows.

[ Laughter ] See it? Watch this? You see the red card, mos? You with
me? Come on.

[ Cheers and applause ] Where’s it at? Where’s it at? Damn!

[ Audience ohs ] All right, we gotta take a break. More with Mos Def,
right after this.

[ Cheers and applause ] Tryin’ to hustle you.

[ Applause ]

[ Cheers and applause ]

Carson: And welcome back to “last call.” We are here with Mos Def. Tell
me the difference a little bit about — and forgive my ignorance — about
lyrics and poetry and rap and how they all differ. Or do they?

Mos Def: Well, there’s — I think there’s poetry to be found in all
of it, you know?

Carson: But for you, when you write or something — when you’re inspired
by something and you go to a pad and pen, do you know you’re just, like,
goin’ with the flow of something that will never be set to music or something
that you might feel like reading aloud?

Mos Def: Sometimes I just write somethin’ ’cause it’s on my mind, an
idea or, you know, something that struck me as funny or a song title. I’ll
be like, “oh, this would be a cool song title,” and write — wanna write
somethin’ about it. Or, you know, I hear a beat that make me just wanna
— you know, just sketch something down, write quick.

Carson: Right. I know you do the “def poetry.” That’s cool.

Mos Def: Yeah.

Carson: I got a question. What’s def about jewel?

[ Light laughter ]

Mos Def: Uh — wow.

[ Laughter ] I don’t know, carson.

[ Laughter ]

Carson: Do you have some lyrics you’re gonna read for us now, or what

Mos Def: Yeah, just a little, you know, it ain’t really nothing but
some rhymes that I wrote. Ain’t no beats with this. It’s like a capella,
but —

Carson: Put your hands together for Mos Def. Let him do it.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Mos Def: Damn, I’m sittin’ down. I feel like I should start singin’
or something.


[ Light laughter ] This one is for brooklyn.

[ Scattered applause ] So you know what it is, from the moment you come
over the bridge. And if you don’t ride with me, I’m gonna show you the
lake. I’m gonna show why my people stay somewhat unmixed. I’m gonna show
you where the pain and the poetry is. Ghetto young and spent a lot of time
alone in the crib. B.E.T. On the screen. Walls of posters are big. Hustlers
gettin’ dough, sittin’ low on the cigs. Blazing up their ambro with glow
over their wrists. Toppin’ the game, know when to risk. But still down.
They load up their clip. Gamblers with hopes of rollin’ a trip. But when
you hear head crackin’, there ain’t no rollin’ again. They snatch the dice,
and everything you want is goin’ to them. It’s how it happens. Good people,
bad habits. Diabetics, crack addicts. Asthmatics. Searchin’ for the truth,
leaping through the holy tablets. The bible, the koran, or the ten crack
commandments. Speak on it god, what’s today’s mathematics? The five-day
forecast. The dow jones average. The price of beer, cigarettes, bread,
milk and pampers. Life is a test, and we all got the answer. The streets
keep callin’. It’s hard not to answer. I know my government, my attribute
and all so it’s only natural I holler back and respond. Brooklyn, stand
up and make ’em all get down. Co** hard with no curve, ’cause we don’t
“f” around.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Carson: All right, nice work. Mos def, everybody.

[ Cheers and applause ] Thank you for bein’ here. “Topdog/underdog”
is in new york. Go check it out

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