Yasiin Bey (born Dante Terrell Smith), better known by his former stage name Mos Def, is an American hip hop recording artist, actor, and activist.
Prior to his career in music, Mos Def entered public light as a child actor, having played roles in television movies, sitcoms, and theater, some of which were under the name Dante Beze.
In 1995, he played the character “Dante” in The Cosby Mysteries. Since the early 2000s, Mos Def is well known for his roles in films such as Something the Lord Made, Next Day Air, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 16 Blocks, Be Kind Rewind, The Italian Job, “Bamboozled“, and Brown Sugar, and for his portrayal of Brother Sam in the American drama series Dexter.
He is also known as the host of Def Poetry Jam, which aired on HBO between 2002 and 2007. Mos Def has been vocal on several social and political causes, including police brutality, the idea of American exceptionalism, and the state of black Americans.
Mos Def signed with Rawkus Records and formed the rap group Black Star with Talib Kweli. The duo 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.
After brief appearances in Bamboozled and Monster’s Ball, Def played a 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.
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 inHBO‘s film Something the Lord Made, he was nominated for an Emmy 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 2010, he appeared on the children’s show Yo Gabba Gabba! as Super Mr. Superhero. He also appeared in A Free Man of Color, John Guare‘s play at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre.
About.com ranked him #24 on their list of the Top 50 MCs of Our Time, while The Source ranked him #23 on their list of the Top 50 Lyricists of All Time. AllMusic called him one of the most promising rappers to emerge in the late 1990s, as well as one of hip-hop’s brightest hopes entering the 21st century.