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Mos Def: Most Definitely A Two-Pronged Talent

Posted in MusicWorld on June 30, 2002 by

Acclaimed for his compelling hip-hop recordings, film performances and stage work, rapper/actor Mos Def apparently won't be satisfied until he has won an Oscar, a Grammy, an Emmy and a Tony.

Indeed, though he only emerged recently from the streets of his native Brooklyn, Mos Def has already demonstrated the style, integrity and relentless drive of a true artist. His irrepressible creativity can be attributed to his desire to alter social perceptions. "As a black man, I don't want to live in any of the boxes they've arranged for me, no matter how comfortable or tidy those boxes are," Mos Def told Essence magazine. "So, I resist all of the labels."

For Mos Def, resisting all the labels has resulted in his most audacious triumph yet. The rapper recently made his stage debut in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play, Topdog/Underdog. Assuming the role of Booth - a part initially performed by the much more experienced Don Cheadle - Mos Def has won unanimous praise for his stage debut. Describing the "marvelous" performances of Mos Def and co-star Jeffrey Wright, the New York Daily News wrote: "[they give] this material the vitality and sheen of elegant jazz riffs."

Born Dante Beze, Mos Def surfaced in 1994 as a guest rapper on recordings by UTD and De La Soul. In 1998, he joined Talib Kweli to become a founding member of the rap duo Black Star. Striking out on his own in 1999, Def's debut solo album, Black on Both Sides, melded activist rhymes with old-school funk rhythms and worldbeat melodies. Drawing favorable comparisons to rap pioneers like Public Enemy, KRS-1 and Rakim, Black on Both Sides is considered by many pundits to be a contemporary hip-hop classic.

In 2000, Def took a temporary respite from music to explore other areas of entertainment. As host of HBO's Def Poetry Jam, he established himself as an influential force on the spoken word scene. Around the same time, the rapper made a typically splashy acting debut. Demonstrating the same slow-burning charm he exhibited on his rap recordings, Def won praise for his role in Spike Lee's controversial film Bamboozled. The rapper then appeared in MTV's Carmen: A Hip-Hopera, opposite Beyoncé Knowles of Destiny's Child. Capping off a spectacularly productive year, Def was acclaimed for his acting role in Monster's Ball, a role that found him acting opposite Halle Berry, Billy Bob Thornton, and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs.

Now, with the recent success of "Top Dog/Underdog," Mos Def has successfully transformed himself into a rapping/acting double threat. But just when it seemed he had accomplished enough, along comes news of Black Jack Johnson, the debut album featuring Mos Def and an all-star rock lineup. Featuring former members of Parliament/Funkadelic, Living Colour and Bad Brains, the band promises to set a new rap-rock standard.