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Mos Def

mosdefBIO

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. Born Dante Terrell Smith on December 11, 1973, in Brooklyn, NY, Mos Def pursued the arts at a young age, excelling as a performer. After high school, he began acting in a variety of television roles, most notably appearing on a short-lived Bill Cosby series in 1994, The Cosby Mysteries. He soon grew frustrated with life as an actor and switched to rapping. Appearances on songs by De La Soul (“Big Brother Beat”) and Da Bush Babees (“S.O.S.”) — both released in 1996 — began Mos Def’s rap career with much propulsion. A year later, he released a single of his own for Royalty Records, “Universal Magnetic,” and it created quite a stir. Soon he moved to Rawkus Records, which was just getting off the ground at the time, and 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 no follow-up was forthcoming, and the 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. Months later, Geffen re-released it with full artwork and a slightly different track listing.

Mos Def Song List

  • “Jam On it”
  • “Body Rock”
  • “Sex, Love & Money”
  • “Brown Sugar (Extra Sweet)”

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