Bed-Stuy native Mos Def has earned a place in entertainment as one of the most prolific actors and musicians of his time. He grew up in the Roosevelt Houses on Dekalb and Lewis Avenues and has been rapping and acting since he was nine years old.
In 1998, Mos Def formed the group Black Star with Talib Kweli and signed with Rawkus Records. The title is a reference to the Black Star Line, a shipping line founded by Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey. They released an album, Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star, to critical acclaim.
The album dealt with modern-day issues, philosophical ideas, and life in Brooklyn, New York City, as the two artists knew it. The album featured the smash hit singles, Respiration and Definition, both later listed in VH1's “100 Greatest Songs of Hip-Hop.”
The success of Black Star earned him an instant, loyal fan base and respect within hip hop circles as one of Brooklyn’s consummate emcees. His intelligent lyrics pegged him as a conscious, revolutionary and underground rapper—a title that he constantly evaded. To Mos, titles spelled limitations, and he refused to be boxed into any one category.
"I’m not just inspired by just black art, but good art, representations of art that are sincere and genuine," said Mos. “The revolution is personal. I'm not doing this for public acclaim; I'm doing this because it's sincere to me, it's real to me and whoever has feelings about it."
In 1999, Mos Def released his solo debut album Black on Both Sides, also through Rawkus. For the next three years, he began a rigorous tour schedule, giving America its first taste Mos Def, the adept stage performer. His amazing stage presence and lyrical skill became a non-negotiable fact. He became Brooklyn’s prodigal son to the outside world, as he often made reference on his albums and on-stage to his love of Bed-Stuy and of Brooklyn.
After his first streak of success in music, Mos decided to re-invigorate his acting career. In no time, he was casted for brief appearances in Bamboozled, Monster's Ball and Brown Sugar. He began hosting the award-winning HBO spoken word show, Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry, and then played the role of Booth in Suzan-Lori Parks' Topdog/Underdog, a Tony-nominated and Pulitzer-winning Broadway play.
In 2003, he signed to Interscope/Geffen Records and released his second solo album, The New Danger in 2004. The single, "Ghetto Rock” went on to receive several Grammy Award nominations in 2004.
In 2005, Mos Def won Best Actor in an 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, a Golden Globe, and won the Image Award.
Since 2006, Mos Def has acted in countless more roles on the big screen and on television. His movie appearances alone include HBO's Lakawanna Blues, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Dave Chappelle's Block Party, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Be Kind Rewind, Cadillac Records and Next Day Air.
Up to today, Mos’s schedule has not let up, as he just wrapped in December 2010 another play, “A Free Man of Color,” co-starring Jeffrey Wright, at the Lincoln Center Theatre. He continues to tour the globe, selling out live music shows from Brooklyn to Boston to Bangkok, always without fail “shouting out Brooklyn and Bed-Stuy,” his home base.
Mos Def is an artist whose many talents, hard work and innumerable accomplishments have catapulted him into a global arena and gilded him an international phenomenon. Yet, he always returns to his home borough of Brooklyn, where he still resides today.
Bed-Stuy, get ready to Rock and welcome home Brooklyn’s prodigal son, Mos Def, as comes to Restoration Plaza’s stage, joined by the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra this Saturday, October 8, from 12:00pm – 5:00pm for the
Note: This excerpt was taken from an earlier BSP article, "Today's Pride of Bed-Stuy: Mos Def," published February 9, 2011.