Mos Def: A Man On A Mission

mos defSince his emergence on the national stage in the late 1990s, Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) has garnered a reputation as of the most respected rappers and a highly respected actor. Mos Def, born Dante Smith on December 11, 1973 in Brooklyn, New York is the eldest of 12 children and stepchildren. Mos Def and several of his siblings grew up with his mother in the Brooklyn projects, while several of his other siblings grew up with their father in New Jersey.

“I began to fear that Mos Def was being treated as a product, not a person, so I’ve been going by Yasiin since ’99,” he said. “At first it was just for friends and family, but now I’m declaring it openly.”

Coming of age at the height of the crack epidemic in the 1980’s, a young Mos Def was surrounded by violence, addiction and crime. Reflecting on his childhood home, the rapper later said, “I believe the projects were a social experiment; we were laboratory rats stacked on top of each other, and people just knew, inherently, that there was something wrong.”

Despite the dangers surrounding him, he managed to steer clear of violence and drugs, pursuing a different path to prosperity through his early passion for the arts. Mos Def was determined to overcome the circumstances of his upbringing: “I remember being seven years old and looking out that window, thinking, ‘I’m gonna make some money.’ Because we were good people.”

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mos-def-brown-sugarIn 1982, at the age of nine, he simultaneously developed an appreciation for theater and hip-hop. “That was the first year I wrote a rhyme,” he later recalled, “and it was also the year that I first saw Wild Style—in the theater, in the Bronx, with my mom. The place was packed. I lived for a summer in the Bronx, and you can’t really describe that time and the energy and have it mean all that it did. It falls short. New York was another type of place, and hip-hop was local, community music, public-access channel. It was a culture that came up in a city on the decline.”

Mos Def credits his parents with guiding him away from such negative content. His father has been advising him on…

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