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Today's Pride of Bed-Stuy: Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def

An entertainer who has achieved international acclaim, but has never forgotten his Brooklyn roots

Feburary 17, 2013: Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def, was born Dante Terrell Smith on December 11, 1973, in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Yasiin has earned a place in entertainment as one of the most prolific actors and musicians of his time.

Yasiin Bey grew up in the Roosevelt Houses on Dekalb and Lewis Avenues and has been rapping and acting since he was nine years old. Yasiin's parents were culturally and politically active, raising Yasiin’s own sensibility early on the topics of social responsibility and community activism.

As a young boy, he was most inspired by the early leaders of hip hop, those who used hip hop as a battle of wits to teach, entertain and make others think. He was a natural performer and also embraced his love for the stage and acting.

He began his professional acting career at the age of fourteen, appearing in the TV movie God Bless the Child, and then 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 detective show, The Cosby Mysteries.

In 1993, while studying experimental theatre at New York University, he formed the Hip Hop group Urban Thermo Dynamics with his younger brother D.c.Q and younger sister Ces. The group was signed to Payday Records, but only released two singles.

The group was short-lived, but still enough time for people to catch wind of the talented and burgeoning young performer. Soon, he was invited to join the Native Tongues Family, a group founded by Afrika Bambaataa and included rising stars De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest.

In 1998, Yasiin Bey 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 Yasiin, 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 Yasiin. “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, Yasiin Bey released his solo debut album Black on Both Sides, also through Rawkus. Around this time, he also contributed to the Scritti Politti album Anomie & Bonhomie and the Rawkus compilations Lyricist Lounge, V. I, Lyricist Lounge V. II and Soundbombing.

For the next three years, he began a rigorous tour schedule, giving America its first taste Yasiin Bey, 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, Yasiin 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, which ran for seven seasons.

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 reviews as the quirky Left Ear in the blockbuster hit, The Italian Job in 2003.

Finally, he decided to make both acting and music his full-time careers, refusing to choose one over the other. In 2003, he signed to Interscope/Geffen Records and released his second solo album, The New Danger in 2004.

On The New Danger, he performed with his rock band Black Jack Johnson, and collaborated with members of the bands Bad Brains and Living Colour. The single, "Ghetto Rock” went on to receive several Grammy Award nominations in 2004.

In 2005, Yasiin Bey 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, Yasiin Bey 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, Yasiin’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. Currently, beginning in 2011, he has worked with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra as an artist-in-residence, collaborating with the classical ensemble on a variety of creative projects to fundraise for the orchestra and other community based efforts.

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.

Yasiin Bey 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.

Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def aka Dante Smith, we acknowledge your many accomplishments in music, theatre and film and honor your ongoing contributions to the borough of Brooklyn and the community of Bed-Stuy.

Awards and Nominations

Black Movie Awards
2006 source awards

Black Reel Awards
2008, Best Supporting Actor: Cadillac Records (nominated)
2003, Best Actor- Independent: Civil Brand (nominated)
2004, Best Supporting Actor: The Italian Job (nominated)
2005, Best Actor TV Movie/Mini-Series: Something the Lord Made (nominated)
2005, Best Actor Independent: The Woodsman

Emmy Award
2004, Best Actor in a Television Movie or Mini-Series: Something the Lord Made (nominated)

Golden Globes
2005, Best Actor in a Television Movie or Mini-Series: Something the Lord Made (nominated)

Grammy Awards
2005, Best Urban/Alternative Performance: "Sex, Love & Money" (nominated)
2006, Best Urban/Alternative Performance: "Ghetto Rock" (nominated)
2007, Best Rap Solo Performance: "Undeniable" (nominated)

Image Awards
2009, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture: Cadillac Records (nominated)
2003, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture: Brown Sugar (nominated)
2005, Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie or Mini-Series: Something the Lord Made (nominated)

*Source, www.lyricsfreak.com

pat February 17, 2013 at 09:20 PM
Can we please do a piece on Carl Sagan. He is from Bedford Stuyvesant you know.
Melissa Danielle February 17, 2013 at 09:36 PM
Carl Sagan is from Bensonhurst.
pat February 17, 2013 at 09:43 PM
His sister is from Bensonhurst. There are great people that came from bed stuy and there are people there now doing great things that are Hispanic, Asian and white. Can we please stop using bed stuy patch as an extension of Ebony magazine, it is getting old and pretty obvious.
Melissa Danielle February 17, 2013 at 09:54 PM
"When I was a child, I lived here, in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn in the city of New York. I knew my immediate neighborhood intimately: every candy store, front stoop, backyard, empty lot, and wall for playing Chinese handball. It was my whole world. But more than a few blocks away, north of the raucous traffic and the elevated railway on 86th Street, was an unknown territory, off-limits to my wanderings. It could have been Mars for all I knew...I remember I was issued my first library card -- I think it was some library over there on 85th Street..." - A Personal Voyage - The Backbone of Night, by Carl Sagan http://www.american-buddha.com/backbone.night.htm The content on Bed-Stuy Patch reflects the predominate culture and demographics of the people who live here. If you'd like to see other voices represented, apply to be a blogger and post what you'd like to be reading here. Otherwise, your complaints risk becoming old and obvious, too.
Black Jack Johnson February 18, 2013 at 01:26 AM
Pat, you are consistently such a moron. 1. The profiles this month have focused on African Americans because it is Black history month. 2. The largest demographic group in Bed-Stuy is African American so the content of this site reflects the community it serves. 3. The site has had plenty of profiles and stories about Bed-Stuy residents who are not black, but a race baiting idiot like you would of course not take note of that fact. 4. We are all sick and tired of your constant complaining. Why don’t you go and start your own community news site. Of course you would never do anything like that because that would actually be something constructive!

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