Rapper and actor Mos Def has talked environmental politics with Al Gore and religion with Bill Maher, and he’s publicly bashed the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina.

Kelly Fraser

And on Jan. 21, Mos Def and his Big Band will be coming to Ann Arbor to perform at Hill Auditorium for the University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium.

In memorial of King, the annual symposium addresses issues like race, diversity and social justice, according to its mission statement. The 2008 theme is “Injustice Anywhere is Injustice Everywhere.”

Mark Jacobson, the University Musical Society’s programming manager, said Mos Def has demonstrated leadership in the black community. In his music and in the media, Mos Def tries to shed light on the problems of drugs, violence and racism against blacks in America.

“A lot of what he says is somewhat universal in terms of its broad appeal,” Jacobson said. “He’s one of the most significant representatives of the black community. That’s what makes his work relevant for the University of Michigan to present. It has a very positive and an inclusive message.”

UMS and the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives worked together to bring the musical act to campus.

They put together a special invitation for Mos Def that he ultimately accepted – a tribute to legendary hip-hop producer J Dilla, a Detroit-area producer who died two years ago and worked with artists like Common, A Tribe Called Quest and Erykah Badu.

OAMI Program Associate Theda Gibbs said Mos Def’s socially conscious attitude makes him a good choice for the symposium.

“He is an artist who definitely talks about social injustices and is a very socially conscious artist,” Gibbs said. “That definitely ties into the theme because we want people to be more conscious of the positive things that are happening, as well as any problems or injustices.”

Engineering freshman Eric Kuykendall, who plans to attend the concert, said he likes Mos Def’s softer sound.

“I like that he’s not as hard core as some other rappers,” Kuykendall said. “He raps about real issues.”

Jacobson said Mos Def embodies what is best about hip hop.

“He really represents what is meaningful and what is good, and he shines the light on a lot of what is positive in hip hop,” Jacobson said. “He comes to the art form with a positive message.”

Jacobson said he was impressed by a previous Mos Def Big Band concert he attended, where live instruments and spoken word poetry replaced DJs and turntables.

“It framed hip hop, and it showcased the best of what hip hop is,” Jacobson said.

Pre-sale tickets, costing between $25 and $45, will be available exclusively to students until Friday at www.ums.org.

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