When it's all said and done, Mos Def will be mentioned among figures such as Rakim, Q-Tip, KRS-One, and Kurtis Blow as one of the greatest hip hop artist in the history of the culture.
I can't tell you anything about Mos that you can't already find here. I've never met him so I don't know any inside "scoopage". Even if I did, I wouldn't put it on the internet!
However, what I can say is that I've been listening to this cat since I heard him on the Soundbombing II compilation album in 1999. He did two tracks on that album, "B-Boy Document 1999" with High and Mighty and Skillz, and "Next Universe" produced by Hi-Tek. I was particularly drawn to the former. I've always been a fan of posse cuts (hip hop tracks with more than two emcees). I imagine it's because I love debating about whose verse was the most inventive or impactful. Well on "B-Boy", Mos has the first verse after all the vamp-in material. He comes in:
It's on fire tonight
Everything on my side is lookin' alright
It's the high power original
Raw bass material
True brand imperial
You're hearin' on your stereo
Transcribe the live, the Mos Def initial
Sit back and listen
You ain't in no position
To deal with my conditional
Mentally and physical
Strength is indivisible
Crews be comin' pitiful
Speech be soundin' typical
Ock, I'm not FEELIN' YOU!!!
Mos writes verses that aren't simply a collage of punchlines for superficial effect. He builds them in layers, allowing each image to be propelled by the ones that came before, then landing with both feet on an unexpected epiphany of dopeness. And he does this with such ease and comfort that one could almost miss it. He's never overt, and he doesn't need to be.
Especially when he's doing stuff as fresh as this: