"Mos Def"initely An Icon

"Mos Def"initely Where It All Began

Mos Def, now known as Yasiin Bey, was born Dante Terrell Smith in the Roosevelt Projects of Brooklyn, New York City on December 11, 1973. He is the eldest of 12 siblings raised by his mother, Sheron Smith (Umi). Mos Def’s artistic journey began at age 9, when he discovered his love for rapping and acting. 

Early Career

In 1994 at age 21, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) started the rap group Urban Thermo Dynamics with his two younger siblings. The group’s hit single “Manifest Destiny” would lead them to get a record deal with Payday London Records, although they did not take off from there. From this, Yasiin would begin his solo career.

More Urban Thermo Dynamics

Mos Def began his solo career in 1996 and was initially recognized for his features on  De La Soul’s song “Big Brother Beat” and Da Bush Babees’ song “S.O.S.” He would then go on to release his hit debut single “Universal Magnetic” in 1997.  Soon after he signs with Rawkus Records and the iconic hip hop duo Black Star is created featuring Mos Def and Talib Kweli.

In 1998, Black Star released their album Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star which featured 2 songs that made the Billboard Hip Hop Charts, “Respiration” and “Definition.” Mos Def and Talib Kweli work on a few more projects together until Mos Def goes solo again.


Studio Albums

(In Order from left to right) Black on both sides (1999), The New Danger (2004), True Magic (2006), The Ecstatic (2009)

Collaborative & Compilation Albums

(Top, Left to Right) Collab Albums: Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (1998), Manifest Destiny (2004), December 99th (2016)

(Bottom, Left to Right) Compilation Albums: We are hip hop: me, You, Everybody (2002), Mos Definite (2007), Audio 3 (2008)

Mos Def also has 58+ Singles and Eps. Some of his most popular songs are “Ms. Fat Booty”, “Body Rock”, and “Universal Magnetic.”

Awards & Achievements

Although Mos Def has not won many music awards, he is recognized in the Black community as an icon in the world of hip hop. He has won several awards from his acting career though. 

Mos Def has had 2 albums receive RIAA Gold Certification: Black on Both Sides and The New Danger. He has also been nominated for 7 Grammys, but unfortunately has not won one yet.

Mos Def's Activism: Iconic in More Than Music

Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def has always been known for his socially aware and empowering lyrics in his music. It’s a part of what makes him such an icon. But, Yasiin Bey also practices what he preaches! He is well known for his liberal activism. In 2000, he hosted and performed at a benefit concert in honor of political prisoner,  Mumia Abu-Jamal. He was a very passionate critic of the Bush Administration’s lack of assistance after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He has done numerous interviews with Bill Maher where he spoke out against issues like racism, Islamophobia, etc. One of his most shocking protests was done in 2013, where he volunteered to experience the force-feeding torture procedure that Guantanamo Bay inmates endure as a protest for their human rights. He continues to be a voice for the people through public speaking, protesting, and in his music. 

Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) has had a tremendous impact on hip hop and really on African American culture in general. His lyricism, flow, and delivery have always made him a great artist, but the messages in his music provide empowerment and enlightenment to those who really take the time to listen. Many socially aware rappers today use him as a model for how to get important messages across in their own music. He represents the true purpose of the beginnings of hip hop, which was all about speaking on the realities of our African American experience. Mos Def will forever be known as an icon for this.

“To me, the job of the artist is to provide a useful and intelligent vocabulary for the world to be able to articulate feelings they experience everyday, and otherwise wouldn’t have the means to express in a meaningful and useful way.”







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