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Mos Def, Diverse & Prefuse 73

Initially regarded as one of the most promising rappers to emerge in the late '90s, Mos Def turned to acting in subsequent years as music became a secondary concern for him. He did release new music from time to time, including albums such as The New Danger (2004), but his output was erratic and seemingly governed by whim. Mos Def nonetheless continued to draw attention, especially from critics and underground rap fans, and his classic breakthrough albums -- Black Star (1998), a collaboration with Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek; and Black on Both Sides (1999), his solo debut -- continued to be revered, all the more so as time marched forward. Mos Def often used his renown for political purposes, protesting in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Jena Six incident in 2007, for instance.

Born Dante Terrell Smith on December 11, 1973, in Brooklyn, NY, Mos Def began rapping at age nine and began professionally acting at age 14, when he appeared in a TV movie. After high school, he began acting in a variety of television roles, most notably appearing in 1994 on a short-lived Bill Cosby series, The Cosby Mysteries. In 1994 Mos Def formed the rap group Urban Thermo Dynamics with his younger brother and sister, and signed a recording deal with Payday Records that didn't amount to much. In 1996 his solo career was launched with a pair of high-profile guest features on De La Soul's "Big Brother Beat" and Da Bush Babees' "S.O.S." A year later, in 1997, Mos Def released his debut single, "Universal Magnetic," on Royalty Records, and it became an underground rap hit. This led to a recording contract with Rawkus Records, which was just getting off the ground at the time, and he began working on a full-length album with like-minded rapper Talib Kweli and producer Hi-Tek. The resulting album, Black Star (1998), became one of the most celebrated rap albums of its time. A year later came Mos Def's solo album, Black on Both Sides, and it inspired further attention and praise. Yet, aside from appearances on the Rawkus compilation series Lyricist Lounge and Soundbombing, no follow-up recordings were forthcoming, as the up-and-coming rapper turned his attention elsewhere, away from music.

During the early 2000s, Mos Def acted in several films (Monster's Ball, Bamboozled, Brown Sugar, The Woodsman) and even spent some time on Broadway (the Pulitzer Prize-winning Topdog/Underdog). He simultaneously worked on the Black Jack Johnson project with several iconic black musicians: keyboardist Bernie Worrell (Parliament/Funkadelic), guitarist Dr. Know (Bad Brains), drummer Will Calhoun (Living Colour), and bassist Doug Wimbish (the Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash, Living Colour). This project aimed to reclaim rock music, especially the rap-rock hybrid, from such artists as Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, who Mos Def openly despised. What made Black Jack Johnson so anticipated though was not so much the supergroup roster of musicians or even Mos Def himself, but rather the lack of black rock bands. Following the demise of Living Colour, there were few, if any, that had attained substantial success. Mos Def hoped to infuse the rock world with his all-black band, and during the early 2000s, he performed several small shows with his band around the New York area. In October 2004, he finally delivered a second solo album, The New Danger, which involved Black Jack Johnson on a few tracks.

Two years later, after a few more acting roles -- including the Golden Globe-winning Lackawanna Blues and the Emmy-winning Something the Lord Made, both of which were made-for-television movies -- Mos Def released his third solo album, True Magic (2006). A contract-fulfilling release for Geffen, which had absorbed Rawkus years prior, the album trickled out in a small run during the last week of 2006. Bizarrely, the disc came with no artwork and was sold in a clear plastic case -- though its single, "Undeniable," did manage to grab a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Solo Performance. The Ecstatic, released on the Universal-distributed Downtown label, followed in June 2009; at that point, Mos Def had significant acting roles in Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind (in which he co-starred with Jack Black) and Cadillac Records (he played Chuck Berry). ~ Jason Birchmeier, Rovi
full bio

Comments

Mos def is 1 of the few true mc's that drops the illest metaphores.I t ' s cause of mos & kweli that I got hooked on underground when I 1st heard of soundbombing mixed by Dj evil d also an ill dj
Being a 40 year old OG fan of Hip-Hop and from the era of "Lyrics"...M o s D e f is the absolute best because he understands that you need to use the Art (Hip Hop) to teach the kids...He has the ability to teach and not preach in his rhymes with A plus skills and the a true understandin g of music...Beyo n d that, he's "unplugged" from the brain washing system that has infected Black American Youth and programs certain thought patterns in our children... He also has a better understandin g of what the un
joker42369
thieves in the night = his best verse
ransompirate s
I agree with the general consensus here...I wouldn't worry about Gavin too much, I mean, look at his bookmarked songs. He likes "rap and hip-hop"...n o , he likes Rhianna and Holla-back Girl (a guilty pleasure of mine too, but a s**t song). Gavin, when you want to give a review of some new rap video on MTV, then you'll know what your talking about.
and thanks Jason for correcting that gay guy..
@marc.. miles higher?? ..nas and jay z?? dont know abut that buddy.. but he is in the conversation . .
Word. Mos Def is still a dope lyricist, too. You ever really listen to what he's saying on Auditorium? Damn. Not to mention the hundred tracks and guest spots he's did in the 90's and early 00's. He's still hip hop, he has just diversified.
in the ranks of whom? Mos Def blows past each aforemention e d rap artists. Lyrical content alone holds him miles higher than nas, jay-z, biggie, and pac. Not one of those rappers are nearly as intelligent as he is. Sure they tackled soical issues from time to time but Mos Def is the absolute a**-whipping .
jschatz324
The boy is on a level few get to. In the ranks of NAS Jay-Z Biggie & Pac...Him and Talib Kweli make a formidable force! This is what true hip-hop is ALLLLL about. Not that Fruit Snack Garbage Rap like Soulja Boy. And no he's not gay, he's just a whole lot better than anything you could ever dream to be, period.
who is this guy, is he gay?
if only he could commit his damn self. Be kind rewind was funny dough
Mos is one of the most prolific and intelligent hip hop artist and actors of our time. His lyrical skills capature your attention from one verse to the next. Even his singing is quite nice. Probably my all time favorite artist period. Even puts on one of the best shows I have ever seen...he is one with the crowd. Definitely under-rated and under appreciated.

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