Mos Def

Mos Def

Dante Terrell Smith (born December 11, 1973), better known by his stage name Mos Def, is an American MC and actor. Mos Def acquired his stage name from his frequent use of "mos def" in place of the words “most definitely”.

Mos Def 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, who released the well-received album Black Star in 1998. He was a major force in the late 1990s underground hip hop explosion spearheaded by Rawkus Records. As a solo artist he has released the albums Black on Both Sides in 1999, The New Danger in 2004, and True Magic, 2006.

Initially recognized for his musical output, Mos Def's screen work since the early 2000s has established him as one of only a handful of rappers who have garnered critical approval for their acting work. He has been nominated for Golden Globe, Emmy, and Grammy Awards. Mos Def has also been active on several social and political issues, and was particularly vocal in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.


Mos Def was born Dante Terrell Smith in the Roosevelt Houses of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York City the son of Darrell Toler. He has two younger brothers, Abdul Rahman (a.k.a. "Gold Medal Man", who is Mos' full-time DJ) and Anwar Superstar. He also has a younger sister, Ces (Casey) Smith. Mos Def and his brothers are all converts to Islam . Mos Def was first exposed to Islam at age 13 by his father. He became a Muslim at age 19 after getting to know Muslim rappers including Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Q-Tip of the group A Tribe Called Quest . Mos Def grew up during the golden age of hip-hop and has been rapping and acting since he was 9 years old .

Personal life

Mos Def is a vegetarian. He reportedly has several children.

In 1996, he married Mexican Maria Yepes. After having two girls, Chandani and Jauhara Smith, he filed for divorce in 2005 . The divorce was legalized in 2006.

Mos Def also has 3 other children with other women .

Mos Def 's second marriage was to Alana Wyatt of Toronto, Canada. The two married after knowing one another for only four days. As of April 2008 she has started to publicly reveal aspects of her courtship, marriage, and subsequent separation from Mos Def. A book entitled Breaking Through the Silence has been released exposing such details .

He has recently taken up skateboarding which he learned from his son Elijah Cole and said he's looking to host a skateboarding event in the United Arab Emirates.

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 discover the crime and social problems of the community .

Rap career

Mos Def began his music career in 1996 in the short-lived group Urban Thermo Dynamics with rapper DCQ and his younger sister Ces. Despite their contract with Payday Records, the group only released two singles, and their debut album Manifest Destiny was not released until 2004, when it was distributed by Illson Media. In 1996, he emerged as a solo artist and worked with De La Soul and da Bush Babees, before he released his own first single, "Universal Magnetic," which was a huge underground hit.

After signing with Rawkus Records, Mos Def and Talib Kweli formed the group Black Star, and released a full length album under the name, Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star. The album was released in 1998 and featured Hi-Tek as producer on most of the tracks.

Mos Def released his solo debut Black on Both Sides in 1999 through Rawkus Records.Black On Both Sides received 4 mics from The Source. In 1999 Mos Def also appeared on the Scritti Politti album Anomie & Bonhomie. Mos Def was also featured on Rawkus' influential Lyricist Lounge and Soundbombing series of compilations. 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" received criticism from fans and critics for its eclectic mix of several musical genres, including soul, blues and rock and roll, performed with his rock band Black Jack Johnson. Black Jack Johnson contained members of the bands Bad Brains and Living Colour.

Mos Def has drawn some criticism from his fan base about "keeping it real" after he appeared in a commercial that endorsed the GMC Denali sport utility vehicle . Mos Def's final solo album for Geffen Records,True Magic, was quietly released on December 29, 2006. 2007 saw the release of another solo album: Mos Definite. This album was released under the Frequent M (Groove Attack) label.

Throughout his music career he has received several Grammy Award nominations, first for "Ghetto Rock" from his 2004 album The New Danger, and then for Undeniable in 2007.

Acting career

Mos Def's background in film and theater date back to his days at New York University, studying experimental theater. He began his professional acting career at the age of 14, 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 featuring Deion Sanders.

After brief appearances in Bamboozled and Monster's Ball, Mos re-invigorated his acting career with his performance as a talented 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 also received positive notices as the quirky Left Ear in the blockbuster hit, The Italian Job in 2003.

In television, Mos Def has appeared 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 old school friend of Michael Kyle's (Damon Wayans).

Mos won Best Actor, Independent Movie at the 2005 Black Reel Awards for his portrayal of the skeptical 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, a Golden Globe, and won the Image Award. 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 is in the motion picture 16 Blocks along with co-stars Bruce Willis and David Morse. Mos has a recurring guest role on Boondocks, starring as "Gangstalicious." He is also set to be in Toussaint, a film about Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L'Ouverture, opposite Don Cheadle and Wesley Snipes. He made a cameo appearance playing himself in the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

He also co-stars with Jack Black in the Michel Gondry movie Be Kind Rewind, playing a video rental store employee whose best friend Jerry (played by Jack Black) accidentally erases the store's tapes. The two protagonists then decide to refilm the deleted movies, becoming local celebrities in the process.


Mos Def appears alongside Kanye West on the track "Drunk and Hot Girls" and the bonus track "Good Night" off Kanye's album, Graduation. He is also releasing a pair of Converse shoes. Mos Def also appears on the debut album from fellow New Yorkers, Apollo Heights on a track titled, "Concern." In October, Mos 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 album "Mind Control" on the song "Hey Baby."

On November 7th, 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, he sang quite a few new tracks which may be appearing on an upcoming album.


In recent shows Mos Def has played new songs from his album said to be named "The Ecstatic." He has shown crowds tracks produced by Madlib and has rumored to be going to Kanye West for new material. The album is said to be released in April 2008. Producer and fellow Def Poet Al Be Back has revealed that he would be producing as well, and that Mos is "four or five records in" to the album . In April Mos appeared on the title track for a new album by The Roots entitled Rising Down.

Social and political views

By the early 1990s, a brand of socially conscious hip hop that had been popularized by A Tribe Called Quest, KRS-One, and many others had been eclipsed in popularity by gangsta rap. Mos Def, as well as Talib Kweli, Common, Little Brother, Quannum Projects and others helped socially aware rap music experience something of a comeback in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Mos Def's collaboration with Talib Kweli, Black Star, was released during the aftermath of the deaths of 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. and focused on violence and deceit in hip-hop, in collaboration with other acts that did the same. Def's music also has references to his Islamic faith, and his contention that black artists receive little credit for their role in the birth of rock and roll music.

On Mos Def's 2004 album The New Danger, the rapper took his penchant for experimentation to a new level. Most of the songs were more hip-hop flavored stylings of blues and rock, with fewer raps thrown in. This threw off fans who were expecting another full-blown rap album. The New Danger also featured the controversial song, "The Rape Over," a parody of Jay-Z's The Blueprint hit "Takeover":

Old white men is runnin' this rap shit,
Corporate forces runnin' this rap shit,
Some tall Israeli is runnin' this rap shit,
We poke out our asses for a chance to cash in.
Cocaine, is runnin' this rap shit,
'Dro, 'yac and e-pills is runnin this rap shit,
MTV is runnin' this rap shit,
Viacom is runnin' this rap shit,
AOL and Time Warner runnin' this rap shit,
Quasi-homosexuals is runnin' this rap shit.

High-placed executives temporarily made him take the song off releases of the album, citing clearance issues with Jay-Z and The Doors, a band which the song samples. The song has garnered controversy over its veiled reference to Israeli American record executive Lyor Cohen (the "tall Israeli" who then was head of the The Island Def Jam Music Group). Mos and Immortal Technique released a similarly controversial song, "Bin Laden" in 2004, which blamed the Reagan Doctrine and President George W. Bush for the September 11, 2001 attacks. A club remix song, featuring Eminem, was released the following year, in 2005.

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 . Video of Mos Def outside fo the MTV awards can be viewed here

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. Mos Def also stated his belief that Al-Qaeda was not responsible for 9/11, joked that the Apollo Moon landings were a hoax, and that Al-Qaeda is not responsible for as much terrorism as they are portrayed to be .




Year Film Role Notes
1991 The Hard Way Dead Romeos Gang Member
1997 Ghosts Townsperson
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
2001 Carmen: A Hip Hopera Lieutenant Miller
Monster's Ball Ryrus Cooper
2002 Showtime Lazy Boy
Civil Brand Michael Meadows
Brown Sugar Christopher 'Chris' Vashawn
2003 The Italian Job Left Ear
2004 The Woodsman Detective Lucas
Something the Lord Made Vivien Thomas *Emmy nomination - Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
*Golden Globe nomination - Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television
2005 Lackawanna Blues The Bandleader
''The Boondocks (2005-2008) Voice Of Gangstalicous
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
Next Day Air Eric post-production
Cadillac Records Chuck Berry post-production
2009 Toussaint pre-production
The Brazilian Job Left Ear announced


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