Mos Def life and biography

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Mos Def biography

Date of birth : 1973-12-11
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2011-05-13
Credited as : Rap singer-songwriter, actor, Most Definite

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Mos Def, born Dante Terrell Smith on December 11, 1973 in Brooklyn, is an American rapper and actor.

Mos Def started his rap career as a member of the Native Tongue Posse collective and by guesting on albums by Da Bush Babees and De La Soul. He released a well-received album with Talib Kweli as Black Star, and was a major force in the late 1990s underground hip hop explosion spearheaded by Rawkus Records. His name comes from his frequent use of an abbreviated 'mos def' in place of the words 'most definitely'.

Initially recognized for his musical output, 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. Def is also an outspoken critic in social and political issues, and was particularly vocal in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

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. 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).

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".

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 Uncle of Michael Kyle's (Damon Wayans) children.

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. During the first season of "Boondocks", Mos starred 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 is also in the new movie 'Be Kind Rewind' with Jack Black.


1998: "Black Star" with Black Star (hip hop group)
1999: "Black on Both Sides"
2004: "Manifest Destiny" with UTD
2004: "The New Danger"
2006: "True Magic"
2007: "Mos Definite"
2009: "The Ecstatic"

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