Dazzling colleagues with offstage freestylin’, discussing the events of 9/11 while sitting between Bill Maher and Cornell West on an HBO show, “campaigning for president” in a Rock the Vote advertisement, crankin’ out verses in front a live studio audience on Def Poetry, banging a tympani while rapping on The Late Show with David Letterman, duck-walkin’ while portraying Chuck Berry on the big screen … rapper, actor, and activist Mos Def consistently keeps it cool, crazy, and confident. His demeanor only enhances his true skills as a rhymer and performer.
Born Dante Terrell Smith, the Brooklyn-based artist’s unique musical career twisted and meandered in several directions since his earliest efforts over a decade ago. As a veteran, he still comes across as real as any rapper in the game.
His sharp skills are on full display on his latest album — an action-packed collection titled The Ecstatic (released in June on the Downtown label). From the exotic and psychedelic funk of “Supermagic” through the high-energy foot-stomp of “Quiet Dog Bite Hard,” The Ecstatic jumps with passion, street smarts, and spirit.
The journey leading up to this new album didn’t begin within the music biz, however. Def actually started out as a child actor, acting in a variety of television roles, including a short-lived Bill Cosby series. Def has stayed just as busy acting, working in several films such as Monster’s Ball, Bamboozled, Brown Sugar, The Woodsman, Be Kind Rewind, and Cadillac Records. He gradually eased into the hip-hop scene working initially with De la Soul and releasing a string of conscious rap singles and full-lengths in the 1990s.
Musically, his ideas reflected a broad range of musical influences. His 1999 album Black on Both Sides (Rawkus) incorporated elements of hard rock, classic pop arrangements, and vintage funk. In the early 2000s, he worked with the more rock/funk-oriented Black Jack Johnson project. 2006’s True Magic was his first all-rap release in seven years.
This year’s “Ecstatic Tour” allows Mos Def a great chance to deliver his dynamic wordplay and natural exuberance all over the country. It could be the coolest gig of the year on the Music Farm’s schedule.