Mos Def began his performing career on the television show The Cosby Mysteries in 1994. In 1994, Mos also began his music career, forming the short-lived group Urban Thermo Dynamics (UTD) with his younger brother DCQ and his younger sister Ces. Despite being signed to Payday Records, the group only released two singles and the group’s debut album, Manifest Destiny, did not see the light of day until 2004 when released through Illson Media. In 1996 he emerged as a solo artist, working with De La Soul and Da Bush Babees before releasing his own first single, “Universal Magnetic” which was a huge underground hit. After signing with Rawkus Records, he and Talib Kweli released a full length album under the band name Black Star, entitled Black Star. It was released in 1998, with Hi-Tek producing most of the tracks. Mos Def released his solo debut, Black On Both Sides, in 1999. Filled with tracks raving about his hometown, Brooklyn and his love for hip-hop, Black on Both Sides also deals with racial profiling of Black men in America, with the track Mr N**ga. Mos Def was also featured on Rawkus’ influential The Lyricist Lounge and Soundbombing series compilations. After the collapse of Rawkus, Def along with Kweli signed on to Interscope/Geffen Records, who released his second album The New Danger in 2004. In early 2005 Mos Def was rumored to join Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella record label, but this was later denied by the artist himself claiming “Jay-Z and Roc-A-Fella would never allow me to release songs I plan on putting out there. I ain’t down with that commercial non-sense. I’m about to deal with the fake with my next album, from George Bush to 50 Cent.” But, after making that comment, Mos Def was featured rapping on a SUV commercial, endorsing the GMC Denali. Mos Def is projected to release his last solo album on Geffen Records, The Undeniable Free Flaco in early 2006.
The artistic boundaries of hip-hop and rap music had been redefined by artists such as Brand Nubian, De La Soul, and Public Enemy, whose music was more thematically sophisticated and socially conscious than that of their predecessors. By the early 1990s however, this brand of rap had been eclipsed in popularity by gangsta rap. Socially aware rap music (alternative hip hop) has experienced something of a renaissance in the late 1990s and now the 2000s, in part due to artists such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, The Roots and others. “Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are … Blackstar” Mos Def’s collaboration with Talib Kweli was released during the aftermath of the deaths of 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. sparking a rebirth of “aware” and “intelligent” hip-hop. Def’s music often references his Islamic faith and his contention that black artists receive little credit for their role in the birth of rock and roll music.