Über Yasiin Bey (Mos Def)
For the latter half of the '90s, many considered Mos Def to be hip-hop's savior. It was a ridiculous expectation, sure, but it also reflects the intelligence, charisma and emotion that the emcee puts into every line. In 1998 he teamed up with Talib Kweli for the excellent Black Star LP, followed by his critically acclaimed solo disc, Black on Both Sides (1999). The most appealing aspect of Mos's lyrics wasn't that they largely focused on issues of class and race disparity, but that they infused an emotional poignancy to these potentially dry and pedantic topics. Fans felt his style a viable alternative to stagnant mainstream hip-hop fare, and his records are regarded as underground classics. And while he was entrusted with the keys to the backpack kingdom, he rejected cult status and instead focused on his budding acting career. His two subsequent albums, 2004's New Danger and 2006's True Magic found the emcee moving further away from typical hip-hop claptrap and toward an experimental template that attempted to fuse numerous strands of black music. Oddly, True Magic was pulled off shelves two weeks after it was initially released in 2006. In 2009, Mos Def mounted a major comeback with the critically-acclaimed The Ecstatic.