When a person thinks of a rapper, names such as Jay-Z, Tupac, 50 Cent, Kanye West and Snoop Dogg may come to mind. However, there are many rap artists who are not quite as mainstream but are just as important yet sadly overshadowed by those who consistently make the Top 40 list. One of those artists is Dante Terrell Smith, also known as Mos Def. He grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. when hip-hop was first developing. He has been rapping since 1994 and has worked with artists such as Talib Kweli (with whom he formed the group Blackstar) and De La Soul and has released four solo albums to date.

Although he can be primarily characterized as a hip-hop artist, Mos Def definitely has an expansive acting career. He has successfully made appearances in movies such as “Monster’s Ball” and “Bamboozled.” Additionally, he has had major roles in movies such as “Brown Sugar,” “The Italian Job,” “16 Blocks,” “Something the Lord Made,” “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” and the upcoming film “Be Kind Rewind” with Jack Black. He also made a guest appearance as himself in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” He has hosted HBO’s “Def Poetry” and has played a role in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play “Topdog/Underdog.”

With a resum such as his, it is no wonder the University asked him to participate in a discussion about entrepreneurship and hip-hop culture. The University has been sponsoring these topics of discussion since September 2006 and has even invited guests such as hip-hop fashion mogul Russell Simmons to speak to its students.

On Dec. 12, 2007, Mos Def spoke to UR students and the Rochester community at the Alumni Center. One question he was repeatedly asked was:”Is hip-hop dead?” His response was an uplifting one, as he emphasized that he believes that hip-hop is not a completely independent entity, but rather is dependent on and a reflection of how people are today. It was fascinating to hear how the future of hip-hop lies in present day society’s hands. The ambition to make hip-hop better and further its influence in our lives can only occur if individuals strive to better themselves and the world in which they live.

Mos Def also commented on the “Overnight Celebrity” myth. Many people think that as long as they meet a salient figure in the industry, fame and fortune will soon ensue in their lives. However, this is not the case. Many aspiring artists are out there working for that moment of fame that either does not come or can take 10 years or so to occur.

Mos Def unveiled a dark truth of the business – many people will inevitably not like you. You have to be driven and strong in order to survive the pressures and rise to the top. He could only remember one person who was considered great from the very beginning – Notorious B.I.G.

Although some people at the talk wanted to perform for him, he said that he would listen to them, but he could not further their careers. That is just not the way it works.

In the last few minutes, he discussed the Kerner Commission, which was created during Lyndon Johnson’s administration. The Kerner Commission was created to study the cause of violence in urban areas during the Civil Rights Movement. The findings revealed that the upsurge of aggression was due to the lack of economic opportunities for African Americans. Through the commission, the government was aiming to end de-facto segregation and get rid of the ghetto environment.

Then he analyzed Hurricane Katrina. Many people, especially poor African Americans, were displaced from New Orleans to random places such as Houston, Texas and Salt Lake City, Utah and were not able to come back.

According to Mos Def, this was not exactly a coincidence. Katrina gave the government the opportunity to act on the Kerner Commission and, sadly, many people were not able to go back home because of it. Mos Def said that the American people need to be aware of what is going on around them rather than ignorantly accepting things in their current condition.

Although he was not able to discuss entrepreneurship as much as anticipated due to time constraints, Mos Def was a very articulate, engaging and passionate speaker who had something powerful to say about today’s world and definitely deserved to be heard.

Massie is a member of the class of 2011.



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