Dante Terrell Smith (born December 11, 1973) is an American actor and
MC known by the stage name Mos Def (play /?mo?s'd?f/). 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 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, True
Magic in 2006, and The Ecstatic in 2009.
Initially recognized for his musical output, since the early 2000s,
Mos Def's screen work has established him as one of only a handful
of rappers who have garnered critical approval for their acting work.
Mos Def has also been active in several social and political issues
and was particularly vocal in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Mos Def grew up during the golden age of hip-hop and has rapped
and acted since he was six. He attended Philippa Schuyler Middle
School in Bushwick, Brooklyn. He majored in Musical Theater at Talent
Unlimited High School of the Performing Arts in Manhattan. He studied
at New York University in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study.[citation
He has two younger brothers, Abdul Rahman (a.k.a. "Gold Medal
Man"), who is Mos Def's full-time DJ, and Anwar Superstar. He
also has a younger sister, Ces "Casey" Smith, and a younger
half-brother, Jermone Victor Moulton, who resides in Brooklyn and
shares the same mother, Sheron.
Mos Def is a convert to Islam. While his father was initially a
member of the Nation of Islam and later an active member in the community
of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, who merged into mainstream Islam from
the Nation, Mos Def was not exposed to Islam until the age of 13.
At 19, he took his shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith. He is
friends with fellow Muslim rappers Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Q-Tip.
 Music career
Mos Def began his music career in 1994 in the short-lived group
Urban Thermo Dynamics with his younger brother D.c.Q and younger
sister Ces. Despite their contract with Payday Records, the group
only had 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.
Mos Def signed with Rawkus Records and formed the group Black Star
with Talib Kweli. They released an album, Mos Def & Talib Kweli
are Black Star, in 1998. Mostly produced by Hi-Tek, the album
featured the hit singles, "Respiration" and "Definition",
which would go on to be featured in VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of Hip-Hop.
Mos Def released his solo debut album Black on Both Sides in 1999,
also through Rawkus. Around this time he also contributed to the
Scritti Politti album Anomie & Bonhomie and Rawkus compilations
Lyricist Lounge and Soundbombing.
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 contained a mix of several musical genres, including soul,
blues, and rock and roll, performed with his rock band Black Jack
Johnson, which contained members of the bands Bad Brains and Living
Colour. The singles included "Sex, Love & Money" and
the B-side "Ghetto Rock"; the latter went on to receive
several Grammy Award nominations in 2004.
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. True Magic features production from
The Neptunes, Rich Harrison and Minnesota, among others. The album
was released in a clear-case with no cover art. Neither Geffen nor
Mos Def himself promoted the album at all, which is the main reason
the album was received under the radar.
The song "Crime & Medicine" is essentially a cover
of GZA's 1995 single "Liquid Swords", though it contains
different verses. Also, the track "Undeniable" samples
a version of the Barrett Strong/Norman Whitfield composition "Message
from a Black Man". The song "Dollar Day" uses the
same beat as Juvenile's "Nolia Clap".
MTV reported that this album isn't a full version, but a teaser/promotional
debut. A new version of the album would be released spring 2007,
with updated songs and cover art. However, on October 17, 2007, Okayplayer
reported, through discussions with Mos Def's management, that these
rumors were unsubstantiated. The CD was intended to be released without
promotion or cover art, as per Mos Def's request. There would be
no future re-release.
On November 7, 2007, 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
Mos Def announced that he would be releasing a new album to be called
The Ecstatic. He sang a number of new tracks; in later shows, Def
previewed tracks produced by Madlib and was rumored to be going to
Kanye West for new material. Producer and fellow Def Poet Al Be Back
stated that he would be producing as well. The album was released
on June 9, 2009; upon its release, only Madlib's production had made
the cut, along with tracks by Preservation, The Neptunes, Mr. Flash,
Madlib's brother Oh No, a song by J. Dilla, and Georgia Anne Muldrow.
Mos Def is also set to do a duo album with Jay Electronica titled
Simpatico. It will contain nine songs.
Mos Def appears alongside Kanye West on the track "Two Words" from
The College Dropout album, the track "Drunk And Hot Girls" and
the bonus track "Good Night" off West's third major album,
Graduation. In 2002, he released the 12" single Fine, which
was featured in the Brown Sugar Motion Picture Soundtrack.
Mos Def also appears on the debut album from fellow New Yorkers
Apollo Heights on a track titled, "Concern." In October,
he 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." In
2009, Mos Def worked together with Somali rapper K'naan to produce
the track "America" for K'naan's album Troubadour.
In April 2008 he appeared on the title track for a new album by
The Roots entitled Rising Down. The new single, Life In Marvelous
Times, was made officially available through iTunes on November 4,
2008, and is available for stream on the Roots' website Okayplayer.
April 2009 saw him traveling to South Africa for the first time
where he performed accompanied by The Robert Glasper Experiment at
the renowned Cape Town International Jazz Festival. He enticed his
bemused African following with an encore introduced by his own rendition
of John Coltrane's "Love Supreme" followed by a sneak preview
of the track "M.D. (Doctor)", much to the delight of the
Mos Def also designed two pairs of limited edition Converse shoes.
The shoes were released to Foot Locker stores on August 1, 2009 in
very limited amounts.
In late 2009, Mos Def created a brand of clothing line with UNDRCRWN
called the "Mos Def Cut & Sew Collection." All clothing
items will be sold in select stores located around the U.S. and almost
exclusively on the UNDRCRWN website. 2009 also found Mos Def
among the MCs collaborating with the Black Keys on the first Blakroc
album, a project headed by the Black Keys and Damon Dash. Mos Def
appeared with Jim Jones and the Black Keys on the Late Show with
David Letterman to perform the Blakroc track "Ain't Nothing
Like You (Hoochie Coo)".
In March 2010, Mos Def's song Quiet Dog Bite Hard was featured in
Palm's "Life moves fast. Don't miss a thing." campaign.
Mos Def features on the first single, "Stylo", from the
third Gorillaz album, Plastic Beach, alongside soul legend Bobby
Womack. He also appears on the track titled "Sweepstakes".
Mos Def has been an active contributor to the recovery of the oil
spill in the Gulf, performing concerts and raising money towards
the repair of the damages. In June 2010, he recorded a cover of the
classic New Orleans song originally by Smokey Johnson, "It Ain't
My Fault" with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Lenny Kravitz
and Trombone Shorty.
* Slick Rick
* Gang Starr
* A Tribe Called Quest
* Poor Righteous Teachers
* Lakim Shabazz
* De La Soul
* Main Source
* Chuck D
* Boogie Down Productions
* Afrika Bambaataa
* MF Doom
* J Dilla
 Acting career
He began his professional acting career at the age of fourteen,
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. In 1997 he had a small role alongside Michael Jackson in
his short film and music video "Ghosts".
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 2001, he took a supporting role to Beyoncé Knowles and
Mehki Phifer in the MTV movie Carmen: A Hip Hopera as Lt. Miller,
a crooked cop.
In 2002, he played the role of Booth in Suzan-Lori Parks' Topdog/Underdog,
a Tony-nominated and Pulitzer-winning Broadway play. He and co-star
Jeffrey Wright won a Special Award from the Outer Critics Circle
Award for their joint performance. 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 disabled
friend of Michael Kyle (Damon Wayans).
Mos Def won Best Actor, Independent Movie at the 2005 Black Reel
Awards for his portrayal of 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 and a Golden Globe,
and won the Image Award. He also played a bandleader in HBO's Lackawanna
Blues. 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 starred in the action film 16 Blocks alongside
Bruce Willis and David Morse. He has a recurring guest role on
Boondocks, starring as "Gangstalicious". He is also set
to be in Toussaint, a film about Haitian revolutionary Toussaint
Louverture, opposite Don Cheadle and Wesley Snipes. He made a cameo
appearance — playing himself — in the movie Talladega
Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
In 2008, Mos Def starred in the Michel Gondry movie Be Kind Rewind,
playing a video rental store employee whose best friend is played
by co-star Jack Black. He also portrayed Chuck Berry in the film
Cadillac Records, for which he was nominated for a Black Reel
Award and an Image Award.
In 2009, he appeared in the House episode entitled "Locked
In" as a patient suffering from locked-in syndrome. His performance
was well-received, with E! saying that Mos Def "delivers an
Emmy-worthy performance." He was also in the 2009 film Next
He also made an appearance on the children's show Yo Gabba Gabba!
as Super Mr. Superhero.
Most recently, he appears in A Free Man of Color, John Guare's play
at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre.
 Social and political views
By the early 1990s, a brand of socially conscious hip hop that had
been pioneered and popularized by Public Enemy, KRS-One, and De La
Soul, among others, had been eclipsed in popularity by gangsta rap.
Mos Def, as well as Talib Kweli, The Roots, Common, 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 negativity in
hip-hop, in collaboration with other acts that did the same. His
music has also made reference to his Islamic faith, and his contention
that black artists receive little credit for their role in the birth
of rock and roll.
On Mos Def's 2004 album The New Danger, he 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". His label
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 Island Def Jam Music Group).
Mos Def 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 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.
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 claimed that Al-Qaeda
was not responsible for 9/11, and that Al-Qaeda is not responsible
for as much terrorism as they are portrayed to be. He appeared
on Real Time again on March 27, 2009, and spoke about the risk of
nuclear weapons. Mos Def said that he did not listen to any of
Osama Bin Laden's messages because he did not trust the translations.
 Personal life
In 1996, Def married Maria Yepes. After having two daughters, Chandani
and Jauhara Smith, he filed for divorce in 2005. The divorce
became final in 2006. Two years later, Def's divorce
lawyers Blank Rome sued Def for more than $60,000 in unpaid legal
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.
He has recently taken up skateboarding and said he's looking to
host a skateboarding event in the United Arab Emirates.
* Black Movie Awards
o 2006 Source Awards
* Black Reel Awards
o 2008, Best Supporting Actor: Cadillac Records
o 2003, Best Actor- Independent: Civil Brand
o 2004, Best Supporting Actor: The Italian Job
o 2005, Best Actor TV Movie/Mini-Series: Something the Lord Made
o 2005, Best Indie Actor: The Woodsman (won)
* Emmy Award
o 2004, Best Actor in a Television Movie or Mini-Series: Something the Lord
* Golden Globes
o 2005, Best Actor in a Television Movie or Mini-Series: Something the Lord
* Grammy Awards
o 2005, Best Urban/Alternative Performance: "Sex, Love & Money"
o 2006, Best Urban/Alternative Performance: "Ghetto Rock"
o 2007, Best Rap Solo Performance: "Undeniable"
o 2010, Best Rap Solo Performance: "Casa Bey"
o 2010, Best Rap Album: "The Ecstatic"
o 2011, Best Short Form Music Video: "Stylo" (with Bobby Womack and
* Image Awards
o 2009, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture: Cadillac Records
o 2003, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture: Brown Sugar
o 2005, Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie or Mini-Series: Something the
Main articles: Mos Def discography and List of Mos Def songs
* 1994: Manifest Destiny (with DCQ and Ces as Urban Thermo Dynamics)
* 1998: Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (with Talib Kweli as Black
* 1999: Black on Both Sides
* 2004: The New Danger
* 2006: True Magic
* 2009: The Ecstatic
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
Island of the Dead Robbie J
2001 Carmen: A Hip Hopera Lieutenant Miller
Monster's Ball Ryrus Cooper
2002 Showtime Lazy Boy
Civil Brand Michael Meadows
Brown Sugar Chris 'Cav' Anton Vichon
My Wife and Kids Tommy 1 episode: Chair Man of the Board
2003 The Italian Job Left Ear
2004 The Woodsman Detective Lucas
Something the Lord Made Vivien Thomas Nominated - Emmy for Outstanding
Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated - Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series
or a Motion Picture Made for Television
Nominated - Image Awards for Outstanding Actor in a Mini-Series or
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
Cadillac Records Chuck Berry
2009 Next Day Air Eric
Toussaint Louverture TBA pre-production
House Lee Guest star as a patient in Season 5, Episode 19