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The Artist Formerly Known as Mos Def

By the editors of MSN Living Sep 11, 2012 8:56PM

Mark Anthony Green, GQ Magazine

Hip-hop's most thoughtful MC goes by a new name—Yasiin Bey. But what's really evolved is his style: a genre-crashing, bohemian mix of influences from Savile Row to Michael Jackson.

Mos Def may have made his name spitting rhymes, but Yasiin Bey remade himself by working his lines on TV (last season's Dexter), on Broadway (A Free Man of Color), and now in fashion—he's a collaborator at New York City shop Ale et Ange (where the jacket, shirt, hat and pants he's wearing come from). Here, the Brooklyn lyricist talks about how he experiments with his look just as much as he does with his résumé.

A Mos by Any Other Name...
"I began to fear that Mos Def was being treated as a product, not a person, so I've been going by Yasiin since '99. At first it was just for friends and family, but now I'm declaring it openly."

Paying Homage
"When my paternal grandfather passed a few years back, I started to wear a shirt and tie every day, like he did. Michael Jackson's death had a big impact on me, too. Right before the Ecstatic tour in 2009, I began wearing loafers and high-waisted pants. And that's where my look started."

Honest Goods
"Hip-hop is the last true folk art. I got involved with Ale et Ange because it represents hip-hop in a way that isn't pandering. It's nice to see something that's elegant, skillful, and raw."

Power Suits
"With guys I revere, like Marcus Garvey or Malcolm X, their look is less about style than purpose and the expression of beauty. It wasn't just about being noticed, you know?"

Mix-n-Sorta-Match
"I like drawing connections between pieces and patterns that would make someone else think, 'Those two things would never go together.' Well, to me they do."

So Fresh, So Clean
"I don't have advice for people on how to dress. People should dress based on what they find beautiful. My best advice: Keep your clothes clean."

Photo: Steven Pan

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