Mos Def‘s influence in the entertainment industry reaches far beyond just music. The Golden Globe and Emmy nominated artist has also crossed over into film and television, earned a Tony nomination on Broadway, and has lent his voice to controversial social issues significant to his generation. All this, of course, runs parallel to the major presence he has had in the Hip Hop genre.
With his critically acclaimed fourth solo album, The Ecstatic [click to read], released just last month, Mos reminds music lovers why his lyrical content has served to further his longevity in the game. In a recent interview with Filter magazine, Mos Def talked about his beginnings with Talib Kweli, Islam, the political complacency of his Hip Hop peers, and the concept of being a “hater.”
“The inspiration for Black Star was Jazz cats,” he explained, “these fully developed artists who would get together for one album and then that was it. I would have never imagined that 10 years later people would be talking about Black Star with quite the enthusiasm that they do, but at the same time, I just want to go in and have a good time with it.”
Mos Def also talked about how he maintains his Islamic faith in an American culture that stigmatizes the religion. Although the reputation of Islam has experienced severe blemishes in the West, it is not uncommon to see Hip Hop artists turning to the faith: Ice Cube, Freeway, Lupe Fiasco, Q-Tip, and Beanie Siegel are just a few artists who have converted to Islam. Def assured that he is not worried about the stigma he may experience as a Muslim, and even drove this point home with his use of Arabic lyrics in The Ecstatic.
“I’m a private person, but I’m certainly not ashamed of what I believe. To not speak about my faith for fear of reprisal would be terrible. If people are uncomfortable with my Islam, they should check themselves.”
Donte‘s laid-back yet ironically outspoken demeanor has propelled him into social activism. However, he expressed some disappointment at the lack of political activism that is coming out of the Hip Hop community, and what he claims is self-promotion coming from black leaders. During the Jena 6 controversy in 2007, where six Louisiana teenagers were being charged for attempted murder, Mos (along with UGK and Lyfe Jennings) was one of few from the Hip Hop community to attend a rally held in support of the students.
“When Mychal Bell went to jail on some stupidly excessive charges, for so many black leaders to do nothing on his behalf is inexcusable. If you ain’t gonna use your voice, then be quiet. The problem with a lot of these black leaders is that they don’t love the people, they love the positions. There’s a difference between wanting to be the president to help people and wanting to be the president to ride in Air Force One. I know a lot of folks like that, and I love them, but I can’t condone what they’re doing. They have to be stopped.”
When asked if his comments against complacent rappers signified his “being a hater,” Mos repsonded, “That word is some new terminology for anyone who’s not being silently complicit. I can’t have an opinion about a pop star? I can’t be critical of a media figure without you calling me a hater? Well, fuck that. Because if I’m hesitant to do that, where’s my energy level going to be when it comes to critiquing the government officials?”
The rest of the extensive interview with Mos Def will be available on July 15, in Filter magazine.