Yasiin Bey, formerly known as the rapper Mos Def, has announced his semi-retirement from music, film and entertainment. Longtime fans of Bey are depressed by the idea of Bey giving up; at the same time, even Bey has said he may still perform and create when the spirit moves him. Bey’s heady raps have inspired a generation with their wit and wisdom. About.com ranked Bey as #14 on their list of the top 50 MCs ever.
Since Bey has never been shy about sharing his opinions, here are some of Bey’s greatest quotes:
18. Bey, who has been a Muslim since the 1990s, had this to say after the Paris attacks in 2016.
“A big giant Fuck off to ISIS, you represent nothing about Islam and nothing about the Prophet… You’re lying, you don’t represent nothing, you represent yourself, you represent blood lust.”
17. Bey emerged at a time when Puff Daddy ruled the world with his materialistic raps. His first album, Black Star, released in collaboration with Talib Kweli, promoted socially conscious rhymes. Bey challenged the idea that commercially popular music was the only kind of music people would buy.
“It’s possible and available to any artist to be himself or herself on their own terms, to be accepted and embraced by black people. You don’t have to be a thug to get love from black people.”
16. As a teen, Bey formed a rap group with his siblings called Urban Thermo Dynamics. On their only album, he rapped:
“Ever since I was small I played the wall/ The loner type, even as a little tike/ While the other little kids were out at play/ I was home wishing for a rainy day.”
15. As this quote demonstrates, Bey drew on sources from far beyond the music industry. He cited author Chinua Achebe as one of his inspirations.
“What I take from writers I like is their economy – the ability to use language to very effective ends. The ability to have somebody read something and see it, or for somebody to paint an entire landscape of visual imagery with just sheets of words – that’s magical.”
14. According to Bey, hip-hop also draws on mathematics:
“You want to know how to rhyme, then learn how to add. It’s mathematics.”
13. On the song “I’m Leaving,” Bey writes about the process of rapping.
“This thing called rhymin’ is no different than coal minin’; We both on assignment to unearth the diamond.”
12. During the last 25 years, hip-hop has inspired people in every corner of the world. Bey observes that:
“Hip-hop is a beautiful culture. It’s inspirational, because it’s a culture of survivors. You can create beauty out of nothingness.”
11. Mos Def once nailed the reason that the world needs artists:
“Good art provides people with a vocabulary about things they can’t articulate.”
10. After his second solo album, The New Danger, was released, Bey focused on melding hip-hop and rock.
“[Fred Durst] and all those ‘Yo! Yo!’ white cats pissed me off pretty good. I wanted to make a rock record that really utilized both the elements of rock and hip-hop.”
9. Bey’s lyrics on the song “RE:Defintion” boldly pack several internal rhymes into a verse touching on the ancient world to the present day:
Son I’m way past the minimum, entering millennium/My raps will hold a gat to your back like Palestinians/Ancient Abyssinia, sure to hold the Gideon/Official b-boy gentlemen, long term, never the interim/Born inside the winter wind, day after December 10/These simpletons they mentioned in the synonym for feminine.
8. Bey has spoken thoughtfully about how everyone from artists to government try to manipulate public opinion.
“I can’t control what people think. I’m not trying to manipulate people’s thoughts or sentiments. I write all the time. You have to experience life, make observations, and ask questions. It’s machine-like how things are run now in hip-hop, and my ambitions are different.”
7. When French President Marcon invited Americans to come to France, Bey described Marcon’s reaction to American turmoil that followed Trump’s victory as:
“Basically he was like a dude who see a woman going through changes with her man. ‘Yo, Sharice, you can do better. Whenever you’re ready, here’s my card.'”
6. Bey critiques the culture that idolizes celebrity, which has everyone from schoolteachers to YouTube stars concerned about their “brand.”
“I don’t care about what brand you are, I’m concerned what type of man you are, what your principles and standards are.”
5. Bey has consistently promoted human rights for all, and believes fervently in the notion of a borderless world.
“That idea of peace and love toward humanity shouldn’t be nationalistic or denominational. It should be a chief concern for all mankind.”
4. Bey lived in South Africa between 2013 and 2016, but was removed from the country when he tried to use a World Passport – a passport which was created after World War II to promote the idea that a person can be a citizen of the world.
“My country is called earth. This whole thing belongs to everybody that’s on it. And, if there’s anything that I can do with my career, it’s to hopefully encourage the generations around me and after me to have that world view.”
3. Bey never shied away from controversial opinions. During an appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher, he decried the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
“The nuclear club should be disbanded because America has proven that there’s no country who’s really going to be responsible with this shit. You can’t get on Iran’s back and say, ‘You can’t have nuclear arms, but we can.’ Oppenheimer was right: we should have never built this shit to begin with.”
2. In 2016 Bey called on everyone to reject extremists of all religions.
“I need anybody with a Twitter account or a Facebook account to discuss the dignity and nobility of being a human being, not a machine, not a puppet of the state, or of your own desires… but for the sanctity of being a human being.”
1. Bey is still up for an honest debate, as long as it’s not rude.