Mos Def

Essential Albums

  • Black On Both Sides

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About Mos Def

Mos Def was one of the foremost faces of conscious hip-hop in the '90s and 2000s, and later became one of its most enigmatic figures. Dante Smith (1973) was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, where he studied Islam while developing a career as a child actor and honing his rap skills. After guest spots on songs by Da Bush Babees and De La Soul, he signed to Rawkus Records, where he formed Black Star with Talib Kweli. The duo released their debut in 1998, building a fanbase for their dedication to pro-Black values, sociopolitical awareness, and hip-hop traditionalism at a time when some feared rap had lost its way to glitzy materialism. The following year, he released his solo debut album, Black on Both Sides, a fittingly titled work that interrogated the joys and despair of the Black experience with stories of racism, love, and defiant reclamations of history. Both were crowned underground rap classics, and he and Kweli drove Rawkus to a reputation synonymous with thoughtful, authentic hip-hop. A decade later, while splitting time between film, TV, and Broadway, he began reinventing himself: He legally changed his name to Yasiin Bey, signed to Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music label, and, by 2019, experimented with atypical release strategies, including releasing a record titled Negus that was only available to hear as part of a live art installation. Fortunately, albums aren't Yasiin's only canvas. In early 2021, he paid tribute to late rapper MF DOOM with a video and performed a medley of songs at fashion house Louis Vuitton's Fall/Winter 2021 runway show in Paris. Yasiin is constantly creating, even if he isn't obediently coloring inside of the lines.

Brooklyn, NY, United States
December 11, 1973

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