Mos Def Music Songs & Pictures
Initially regarded as one of hip-hop's most promising newcomers in the late '90s, Mos Def expanded his reach in the years to come, establishing himself as a serious actor and also making a bid to reshape the rap-rock genre. His artistic career began in the late '80s as a television actor, a profession he began directly out of high school. By the mid-'90s though, Mos Def turned to rap music as his new profession, frustrated by how little acting paid relative to rapping. Based in Brooklyn, he began affiliating himself with the local hip-hop scene, appearing on tracks by such esteemed groups as De La Soul and Da Bush Babees. Following these guest appearances and some singles for Royalty (most notably "Universal Magnetic"), Mos Def began recording for the upstart Rawkus label. His first full-length album, Black Star (1998), a collaboration with Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek, shook the hip-hop community, which embraced the album and spoke of a Native Tongue revival. His solo debut, Black on Both Sides (1999), did much the same a year later. For the most part though, Mos Def maintained a low profile in successive years, rediscovering his passion for acting and forming the rap-rock supergroup Black Jack Johnson.
Born in Brooklyn, 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 beat-maker DJ Hi-Tek. The resulting album, Black Star (1998), became one of the most discussed 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.
Rap groups such as De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and Brand Nubian -- loosely known as the Native Tongue collective -- had set a precedent years earlier for socially conscious, thoughtful rap music more likely to celebrate Afrocentricity than gangsta culture. Yet these artists had fallen out of favor by the late '90s as they aged. Mos Def, on the other hand, was young and charismatic, an apparently capable and willing heir. Thus, listeners, critics, and everyone else who had heard Mos Def's work for Rawkus championed him as a sort of savior, a genuine, important MC in an age of flossin' gangstas and angry thugs. And Mos Def certainly fit the role as newly crowned king of the new-school Native Tongue artists such as Common and Kweli. However, for whatever reason -- the hype, the pressure, the attention -- he shied away from the recording studio after Black on Both Sides and began pursuing other interests.
During the early 2000s, he 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.
Jason Birchmeier, All Music Guide
Mos Def Discography
Released: 2006-09-29Buy album
Released: 2004-10-19Buy album
Released: 1999-10-12Buy album
Released: 1998-08-26Buy album
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Mos Def Talib Kweli Dead Prez Headline Concert (Posted on July 30, 2007)
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