Mos Def

(b. 1973)

Beginning in the late 90s, socially-conscious rapper Mos Def — more recently known as Yasiin Bey — established a reputation as one of Hip Hop's most forward-thinking artists, while building a parallel acting career that's demonstrated the same thoughtfulness and versatility that are hallmarks of his music.

Born Dante Terrell Smith in Brooklyn, Mos Def began rapping at age nine and began acting professionally at 14. He formed Urban Thermo Dynamics with his brother and sister, and later made guest appearances on albums by Da Bush Babees and De La Soul. But his musical career didn't really take off until the late 90s, when he signed with the Rawkus label and formed Black Star with Talib Kweli, releasing the 1998 album Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star. He launched his solo career with 1999's Black on Both Sides, following with such well-received albums as The New Danger, True Magic and The Ecstatic. He also made guest appearances on albums by Kanye West, the Roots and Gorillaz, collaborated with the Black Keys on the first Blakroc album and put together the all-star band Black Jack Johnson, which he described as an effort to reclaim the Rock-Rap hybrid from the inferior white bands that had staked out the style.

Mos Def is also one of the few rappers to carve out a long-term acting career, winning acclaim for his work in such films as Something the Lord Made (for which he received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations), Next Day Air, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, 16 Blocks, Be Kind Rewind and Cadillac Records, in which he portrayed Chuck Berry.