Born Dante Terrell Smith in 1973 Brooklyn, NY, Yasiin Bey began rapping at age nine and began professionally acting at age 14. Yasiin Bey emerged in the late '90s as one of the most promising solo rappers to step on the scene. In 1996 his solo career was launched with a pair of high-profile guest features on De La Soul's "Big Brother Beat" and Da Bush Babees' "S.O.S." A year later, in 1997, Yasiin Bey released his debut single, "Universal Magnetic," on Royalty Records, and it became an underground rap hit. This led to a recording contract with Rawkus Records and the beginning of a full-length album with like-minded rapper Talib Kweli and producer Hi-Tek. The resulting album, Black Star (1998), became one of the most celebrated rap albums of its time. A year later came Yasiin Bey's solo album, Black on Both Sides, and it inspired further attention and praise.
During the early 2000s, Yasiin Bey simultaneously worked on several movies and the Black Jack Johnson Project with several iconic black musicians: keyboardist Bernie Worrell (Parliament/Funkadelic), guitarist Dr. Know (Bad Brains), drummer Will Calhoun (Living Colour), and bassist Doug Wimbish (the Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash, Living Colour). This project aimed to reclaim rock music, especially the rap-rock hybrid. What made the Black Jack Johnson band so anticipated was not so much the supergroup roster of musicians or even Yasiin Bey himself, but rather the lack of black rock bands. Following the demise of Living Colour, there were few, if any, that had attained substantial success. Yasiin Bey hoped to infuse the rock world with his all-black band, and during the early 2000s, he performed several small shows with his band around the New York area. In October 2004, he finally delivered a second solo album, The New Danger, which involved Black Jack Johnson on a few tracks.
Two years later, after a few more acting roles -- including the Golden Globe-winning Lackawanna Blues and the Emmy-winning Something the Lord Made, Yasiin Bey released his third solo album, True Magic (2006). The disc came with no artwork and was sold in a clear plastic case. Its single, "Undeniable," did manage to grab a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Solo Performance. He began to use his platform more for political purposes and forward thought, protesting in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Jena Six incident in 2007 drew more attention his way. The Ecstatic, released on the Universal-distributed Downtown label, followed in June 2009 and is the most recent album he released.