He was raised in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood known as the “Wild 100’s” and is a former member of the Blackstone Rangers street gang. In his youth he became friendly with rapper Common. He is dyslexic, which he first realized as a teenager. He has evolved over the years from a street hustler into a street poet. His name means "King Joseph" (Malik and Yusuf, respectively) in the Arabic, the liturgical language of Islam.
As a spoken word artist, poetry allowed Yusef the aesthetic freedom to comment on a wide breadth of personal and social issues while his lyrics remained commensurate with a global vision: to encourage the benevolence in all people. His voice incorporates street vernacular against backdrops of hip-hop beats, organic keyboards, guitars and horns. The Chicago native has made his career as a “wordsmyth,” reciting verses that chronicle inner city life growing up on the urban streets of the Windy City. His lexicon tells stories that speak to both the intricate depths and heights of ghetto culture, as well as global socio-economic woes.
The inspiration to formulate his mosaic of words comes from his children, his dreams, the ancestors and other prolific poets. Some of his influences include Langston Hughes, William Shakespeare, Haki Madhubuti and Phillis Wheatley. His spoken word artistry has contributed to promotional campaigns including ASCAP, Sprite, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Chrysler, Verizon, Miller Brewing Co. and Nike.
He is the father of five, a husband, and a revolutionary, one that has remained steadfast as an advocate of urban revitalization and extensive social reforms. In the local Chicago community he has established initiatives such as ‘For Yourself Foundation,’ a program designed to help combat illiteracy, ‘Girl Power’ a non-profit aimed towards uplifting and empowering young females and the ‘Drop Squad,’ consisting of a team who work to clean trash and debris off neighborhood streets. He is devoted to the principles and values of Islam but studies a global array of culture, history and religions. He maintains personal ties and friendships with Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Raheem Devaughn, Common, Carl Thomas and Lupe Fiasco.
He got his first break when New Line Cinema Director Ted Witcher commissioned him to coach Larenz Tate in the romantic drama "Love Jones" which went on to garner a Sundance Film Festival Award and three NAACP Image Awards. While filming in Chicago, Yusef additionally made a cameo as a guest spoken word artist.
In 2007 he collaborated with Director Frey Hoffman (Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks,” Sa-Ra' featuring Erykah Badu and Talib Kweli "Feel the Bass") for the film adaptation of Yusef’s poem "Hollywood Jerome." The two contemporaries previously joined forces for Yusef’s 2005 music video “Wouldn’t You Like to Ride” featuring Kanye West and Common. Their film "The Untimely Demise of Hollywood Jerome" presents a gritty street drama, chronicling the tale of a 14-year-old South Side gang member who idolizes classic Hollywood gangsters like the archetypical Scarface and Godfather. Yusef and Hoffman’s film openly confronts pop culture’s misrepresentation and glorification of gang warfare. The film culminates in the protagonist caught up in a police stand-off on the opposite side of town. Cameos include Kanye West and Twista.
His most noticeable performance came in 2002 during a featured poem entitled “I Spit…” on Season 2 of HBO’s “Russell Simmon’s Def Poetry Jam.” The segment also featured artists including Malcolm Jamal Warner and legendary hip hop icon Rakim. Yusef appeared as himself in the 2005 VH-1 Television Series “Driven,” a documentary surrounding the life of friend Kanye West, also featuring appearances from Common, Damon Dash, Jermaine Dupri, Jay-Z, Ludacris and Russell Simmons. He additionally made guest appearances on ABC Worldwide News, WGN Morning News, CLTV's Garrard McClendon Live!, BET’s Rap City and MTV’s Hip-Hop Week
He released his solo album featuring local talent including Kanye West, Carl Thomas, Chantay Savage, Michael Coleman, Common and Twista, documenting an amalgam of eroticism, religion, gangster folklore and hip-hop. The Source magazine dubbed the debut “a classic.”
He released his sophomore effort, G.O.O.D. Morning, G.O.O.D. Night in June 2009, featuring guest musicians and producers Kanye West, Common, Raheem Devaughn, Jennifer Hudson, Michelle Williams, HearonTrackz, KRS One, Adam Levine of Maroon 5, Twista, Jes.Tone, rock band Violet Nine and soul pianist John Legend, as well as musician Mr. Hudson. The concept of the reflective double CD displayed Protagonist vs. Antagonist/Lower Self vs. Higher Self, exhibiting the poet’s struggle between his internal dualities.
The first single "Magic Man" featured Kanye West, Common and John Legend. Another song called "By Your Side" which featured Destiny's Child member Michelle Williams and singer Brando, leaked on the internet.
Yusef made an appearance on the G.O.O.D. Music collaborative album, Cruel Summer, which was released on September 18, 2012. He appeared on the track, "Sin City," along with fellow G.O.O.D. Music artists John Legend, Teyana Taylor, Cyhi the Prynce, and Travis Scott.The Great Chicago Fire; A Cold Day in Hell (Universal Records 2003)
G.O.O.D. Morning, G.O.O.D. Night (GOOD Music 2009)
"Wouldn’t You Like To Ride" featuring Kanye West and Common (2005)
"Magic Man" featuring Kanye West, Common and John Legend (2009)
He and jazz saxophonist Mike Phillips (Hidden Beach Records) collaborated on the song "This is Not a Game", which was selected by basketball star Michael Jordan and appeared on the interactive CD-Rom included alongside his limited edition Jordan 17 Sneakers in August 2002. His work has also been featured on a string of albums, particularly alongside his comrades and Chicago natives."My City" – Common - One Day It'll All Make Sense (Relativity Records 1997)
"Trouble Don't Last Always" – Carl Thomas – Emotional (Bad Boy Records 2000)
"Know it's Alright" – Carl Thomas – Let's Talk About It (Bad Boy Records 2004)
"Wouldn’t You Like To Ride" featuring Common & Kanye West - Coach Carter soundtrack (Capitol Records 2005)
"Crack Music" - Kanye West featuring The Game - Late Registration (Roc-a-Fella Records 2005)
"Mr. Blue Collar" - Rhymefest - Blue Collar (Allido Records 2006)
"Welcome to Chi" - Dr. Cornel West - Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations (Hidden Beach Records 2007)
"Stay Up" - Kanye West featuring 88-Keys - The Death of Adam (Extra Credit) (2007)
"Promised Land" – Kanye West, Adam Levine, John Legend - Barack Obama: Yes We Can soundtrack (Hidden Beach Records 2008)
"Always Be Arriving" – Kindred & The Family Soul - Arrival (Hidden Beach Records 2008)
"Woman I Desire" – Raheem DeVaughn - Love Behind the Melody (Jive Records 2008)
"Magic Man" – Kanye West & Malik Yusef, featuring John Legend & Common (G.O.O.D. Music 2009)
"Fragile" – Raheem DeVaughn - The Love & War MasterPeace (Jive Records 2010)
"Ayyy Girl" – JYJ featuring Kanye West and Malik Yusef - The Beginning (C-JeS/Warner 2010)
"Nobody's Smiling" – Common – Nobody's Smiling (Def-Jam Recordings/ARTium Records 2014)
Summer 2008 "The Art of Love Tour" f/ Raheem Devaughn and Chrisette Michele
Spring 2008 “Real Thing Tour” f/ Jill Scott & Raheem Devaughn
Fall 2005 – “Touch the Sky Tour” f/ Kanye West & Keyshia Cole
Summer 2000 –Carl Thomas & Mary J. Blige Tour
Grammy Award 2011 - "Best Rap Song" for All Of The Lights from the album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with Jeff Bhasker, Stacy Ferguson, Warren Trotter and Kanye West, songwriters (Kanye West, Rihanna, Kid Cudi and Fergie)
Chicago Music Awards – “Best Poet” (2002 to 2008)
Truth Awards – “Spoken Word Artist of the Year” (2001 to 2005)