Dante Terrell Smith (born December 11, 1973) is an American actor and hip hop recording artist, better known by the stage names Mos Def / / and Yasiin Bey / /. He started his hip hop career in a group called Urban Thermo Dynamics, after which he appeared on albums by Da Bush Babees and De La Soul. With Talib Kweli, he formed the duo Black Star, which released the album Black Star in 1998. He was a major force in late 1990s underground hip hop while with Rawkus Records. As a solo artist he has released the albums Black on Both Sides in 1999, The New Danger in 2004, True Magic in 2006, and The Ecstatic in 2009.
Although he was initially recognized for his musical output, since the early 2000s, Mos Def's screen work has established him as one of only a handful of rappers who has garnered critical acclaim for his acting work. He is well known for his parts in films Something the Lord Made, Next Day Air, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, "Be Kind Rewind", "The Italian Job", and his portrayal of Brother Sam in the American drama series Dexter. Mos Def has also been active in several social and political causes.
Early life[edit | edit source]
He was born Dante Terrell Smith in Brooklyn, New York City, the son of Sheron Smith and Abdul Rahman. He was raised by his mother in Brooklyn; his father lived in New Jersey. While his father was initially a member of the Nation of Islam and later an active member in the community of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, who merged into mainstream Islam from the Nation, Mos Def was not exposed to Islam until the age of 13. At 19, he took his shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith. He is friends with Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest.
Career[edit | edit source]
Music[edit | edit source]
Mos Def signed with Rawkus Records and formed the group Black Star with Talib Kweli. They released an album, Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star, in 1998. Mostly produced by Hi-Tek, the album featured the hit singles, "Respiration" and "Definition", which would go on to be featured in VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of Hip-Hop. Mos Def released his solo debut albumBlack on Both Sides in 1999, also through Rawkus. Around this time he also contributed to the Scritti Politti album Anomie & Bonhomie and Rawkus compilations Lyricist Lounge andSoundbombing.
After the collapse of Rawkus, he signed to Interscope/Geffen Records, which released his second solo album The New Danger in 2004. The New Danger contained a mix of several musical genres, including soul, blues, and rock and roll, performed with his rock band Black Jack Johnson, which contained members of the bands Bad Brains and Living Colour. The singles included "Sex, Love & Money" and the B-side "Ghetto Rock"; the latter went on to receive several Grammy Award nominations in 2004.
The song "Crime & Medicine" is essentially a cover of GZA's 1995 single "Liquid Swords", though it contains different verses. Also, the track "Undeniable" samples a version of the Barrett Strong/Norman Whitfield composition "Message from a Black Man". The song "Dollar Day" uses the same beat as Juvenile's "Nolia Clap".
On November 7, 2007, Mos Def performed live in San Francisco at a venue called The Mezzanine. This performance was recorded for an upcoming "Live in Concert" DVD. During this performance Mos Def announced that he would be releasing a new album to be called The Ecstatic. He sang a number of new tracks; in later shows, Def previewed tracks produced by Madliband was rumored to be going to Kanye West for new material. Producer and fellow Def Poet Al Be Back stated that he would be producing as well. The album was released on June 9, 2009; upon its release, only Madlib's production had made the cut, along with tracks by Preservation, The Neptunes, Mr. Flash, Madlib's brother Oh No, a song by J. Dilla, and Georgia Anne Muldrow.
Mos Def appears alongside Kanye West on the track "Two Words" from The College Dropout album, the track "Drunk And Hot Girls" and the bonus track "Good Night" off West's third major album, Graduation. In 2002, he released the 12" single Fine, which was featured in the Brown Sugar Motion Picture Soundtrack.
Mos Def also appears on the debut album from fellow New Yorkers Apollo Heights on a track titled, "Concern." In October, he signed a deal with Downtown Records and appeared on a remix to the song "D.A.N.C.E." by Justice. Mos Def appeared on Stephen Marley's debut album Mind Control on the song "Hey Baby." In 2009, Mos Def worked together with Somali rapper K'naan to produce the track "America" for K'naan's album Troubadour.
In April 2008 he appeared on the title track for a new album by The Roots entitled Rising Down. The new single, Life In Marvelous Times, was made officially available through iTunes on November 4, 2008, and is available for stream on the Roots' website Okayplayer.
April 2009 saw him traveling to South Africa for the first time where he performed accompanied by The Robert Glasper Experiment at the renowned Cape Town International Jazz Festival. He enticed his bemused African following with an encore introduced by his own rendition of John Coltrane's "Love Supreme" followed by a sneak preview of the track "M.D. (Doctor)", much to the delight of the fans.
In late 2009, Mos Def created a brand of clothing line with UNDRCRWN called the "Mos Def Cut & Sew Collection." All clothing items will be sold in select stores located around the U.S. and almost exclusively on the UNDRCRWN website. 2009 also found Mos Def among the MCs collaborating with the Black Keys on the first Blakroc album, a project headed by the Black Keys and Damon Dash. Mos Def appeared with Jim Jones and the Black Keys on the Late Show with David Letterman to perform the Blakroc track "Ain't Nothing Like You (Hoochie Coo)".
In March 2010, Mos Def's song Quiet Dog Bite Hard was featured in Palm's "Life moves fast. Don't miss a thing." campaign.
Mos Def has been an active contributor to the recovery of the oil spill in the Gulf, performing concerts and raising money towards the repair of the damages. In June 2010, he recorded a cover of the classic New Orleans song originally bySmokey Johnson, "It Ain't My Fault" with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Lenny Kravitz and Trombone Shorty.
In September 2011, Mos Def announced that he planned to use the name Yasiin instead of Mos Def beginning in 2012.
Acting[edit | edit source]
He began his professional acting career at the age of fourteen, appearing in the TV movie God Bless the Child, starring Mare Winningham. He then played the oldest child in the short-lived family sitcom, You Take the Kids, starring Nell Carter and Roger E. Mosley. His most notable acting role before his music career was that of Bill Cosby's sidekick on the short-lived detective show, The Cosby Mysteries. He also starred in a 1996 Visa check card commercial featuringDeion Sanders. In 1997 he had a small role alongside Michael Jackson in his short film and music video "Ghosts".
After brief appearances in Bamboozled and Monster's Ball, Def played a rapper who is reluctant to sign to a major label in Brown Sugar. He was nominated for an Image Award and a Teen Choice Award.
In 2002, he played the role of Booth in Suzan-Lori Parks' Topdog/Underdog, a Tony-nominated and Pulitzer-winning Broadway play. He and co-star Jeffrey Wright won a Special Award from the Outer Critics Circle Award for their joint performance. He also received positive notices as the quirky Left Ear in the blockbuster hit, The Italian Job in 2003. He also appeared in 2003 in the music video You Don't Know My Name of the song by Alicia Keys.
In television, Mos Def has appeared on NYPD Blue, on Comedy Central's Chappelle's Show, and has hosted the award-winning HBO spoken word show, Def Poetry since its inception. The show's sixth season aired in 2007. He also appeared on the sitcom My Wife And Kids as the disabled friend of Michael Kyle (Damon Wayans).
Mos Def won Best Actor, Independent Movie at the 2005 Black Reel Awards for his portrayal of Detective Sgt. Lucas in The Woodsman. For his portrayal of Vivien Thomas in HBO's film Something the Lord Made, he was nominated for an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe, and won the Image Award. He also played a bandleader in HBO's Lackawanna Blues. He then landed the role of Ford Prefect in the 2005 movie adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
In 2006, Mos Def appeared in Dave Chappelle's Block Party alongside fellow Black Star companion Talib Kweli, while also contributing to the film's soundtrack. Also, Mos Def was featured as the black banjo player in the infamous "Pixie Sketch" from Chappelle's Show: The Lost Episodes. He was later edited out of it on the DVD. Additionally, Mos Def starred in the action film 16 Blocks alongside Bruce Willis and David Morse. He has a recurring guest role on Boondocks, starring as "Gangstalicious". He is also set to be in Toussaint, a film about Haitianrevolutionary Toussaint Louverture, opposite Don Cheadle and Wesley Snipes. He made a cameo appearance — playing himself — in the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
In 2007, Mos Def narrated the PBS-broadcast documentary Prince Among Slaves.
In 2008, Mos Def starred in the Michel Gondry movie Be Kind Rewind, playing a video rental store employee whose best friend is played by co-star Jack Black. He also portrayed Chuck Berryin the film Cadillac Records, for which he was nominated for a Black Reel Award and an Image Award.
In 2009, he appeared in the House episode entitled "Locked In" as a patient suffering from locked-in syndrome. His performance was well-received, with E! saying that Mos Def "delivers anEmmy-worthy performance." He was also in the 2009 film Next Day Air.
In 2011, he began a multi-episode appearance on the Showtime television series Dexter. He played Brother Sam, an ex-con who has supposedly found religion despite finding himself in violent situations.
Social and political views[edit | edit source]
In September 2005, Mos Def released the single "Katrina Clap", renamed "Dollar Day" for True Magic, (utilizing the instrumental for New Orleans rappers UTP's "Nolia Clap"). The song is a criticism of the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina. On the night of the MTV Video Music Awards, Mos Def pulled up in front of Radio City Music Hall on a flatbed truck and began performing the "Katrina Clap" single in front of a crowd that quickly gathered around him. He was subsequently arrested despite having a public performance permit in his possession.
On September 7, 2007, Mos Def appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher where he spoke about racism against African Americans, citing the government response to Hurricane Katrina, the Jena Six and the murder conviction of Mumia Abu-Jamal. He appeared on Real Time again on March 27, 2009, and spoke about the risk of nuclear weapons. Mos Def said that he did not listen to any of Osama Bin Laden's messages because he did not trust the translations.
In July 2013, Mos Def appeared in a short film, released by the human rights organization Reprieve, depicting the forced feeding methods used at the Guantanamo Bay detention camps. This occurred after a document containing the military instructions for the procedure was leaked.
Def was accused of anti-Semitism when in 2004, Def rapped "some tall Israeli is running this rap shit." Which was a reference to the Israeli music executive Lyor Cohen, that Def singled out, together with white men in general, corporate greed, and drugs, as one of the main reasons for the decline of hip-hop.
Acclaim[edit | edit source]
About.com ranked him #24 on their list of the Top 50 MCs of Our Time, while The Source ranked him #23 on their list of the Top 50 Lyricists of All Time. Allmusic called him one of the most promising rappers to emerge in the late '90s, as well as one of hip-hop's brightest hopes entering the 21st century.
Personal life[edit | edit source]
In October 2006 Mos Def appeared on 4Real, a documentary television series. Appearing in the episode "City of God," he and the 4Real crew traveled to City of God, a slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to meet Brazilian MC MV Bill and learn about the crime and social problems of the community.
Nominations[edit | edit source]
- Black Movie Awards
- 2006 Source Awards
- Black Reel Awards
- Emmy Award
- 2004, Best Actor in a Television Movie or Mini-Series: Something the Lord Made
- Golden Globes
- 2005, Best Actor in a Television Movie or Mini-Series: Something the Lord Made
- Grammy Awards
- 2005, Best Urban/Alternative Performance: "Sex, Love & Money"
- 2006, Best Urban/Alternative Performance: "Ghetto Rock"
- 2007, Best Rap Solo Performance: "Undeniable"
- 2010, Best Rap Solo Performance: "Casa Bey"
- 2010, Best Rap Album: "The Ecstatic"
- 2011, Best Short Form Music Video: "Stylo" (with Bobby Womack and Gorillaz)
- Image Awards
- 2009, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture: Cadillac Records
- 2003, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture: Brown Sugar
- 2005, Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie or Mini-Series: Something the Lord Made
Discography[edit | edit source]
- Black On Both Sides (1999)
- The New Danger (2004)
- True Magic (2006)
- The Ecstatic (2009)
- Negus (2019)
Collaborations[edit | edit source]
- Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star (with Talib Kweli, as Black Star) (1998)
- Manifest Destiny (with Ces and DCQ, as UTD) (2004)
- Dec 99th (with Ferrari Sheppard, as Dec 99th) (2016)
- As Promised (with Mannie Fresh) (TBA)
Filmography[edit | edit source]
|1991||The Hard Way||Dead Romeos Gang Member|
|1998||Where's Marlowe?||Wilt Crawley|
|2000||Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme||Himself|
|Bamboozled||Big Blak Afrika||Also recorded a song for the movie's soundtrack with other members of the Mau Maus|
|Island of the Dead||Robbie J|
|2001||Carmen: A Hip Hopera||Lieutenant Miller|
|Monster's Ball||Ryrus Cooper|
|Civil Brand||Michael Meadows|
|Brown Sugar||Chris 'Cav' Anton Vichon|
|My Wife and Kids||Tommy||1 episode: Chair Man of the Board|
|2003||The Italian Job||Left Ear|
|2004||The Woodsman||Detective Lucas|
|Something the Lord Made||Vivien Thomas||Nominated - Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie|
|2005||Lackawanna Blues||The Bandleader|
|The Boondocks (2005-2008)||Voice Of Gangstalicious|
|The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy||Ford Prefect|
|2006||Dave Chappelle's Block Party||Himself|
|16 Blocks||Eddie Bunker|
|Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby||Himself||Cameo|
|Journey to the End of the Night||Wemba|
|2007||Prince Among Slaves||Narrator|
|2008||Be Kind Rewind||Mike|
|Cadillac Records||Chuck Berry|
|2009||Next Day Air||Eric|
|House||Lee||Season 5, Episode 19, Locked In|
|2010||I'm Still Here||Himself|
|Yo Gabba Gabba!||Super Mr. Superhero||Season 3, Episode 44, Superhero|
|2011||Dexter||Brother Sam||Season 6, recurring, (credited as "Mos" in 2 episodes, "yasiin bey" in 3 episodes)|
|2014||Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles||Baxter Stockman||filming|
|Life of Crime||Ordell Robbie|