Release Date: Jun 9, 2009
Record label: Downtown
During the first several years of the 2000s, it wasn't unreasonable to want Mos Def, one of the most dazzling living MCs, to make a rap album. After he released 2006's True Magic, his first all-rap release in seven years -- following the back-to-back instant classics Black Star and Black on Both Sides -- it was easier to understand why he had been devoting much more time to acting and diversions like The New Danger. It was evident that he was not inspired, no doubt prompting a fair portion of his followers to think, "OK, maybe we should have been more specific: please make a good rap album.
His acting roles aside, it’s been about two-and-a-half years since we last heard from the Mighty Mos Def, a.k.a. Pretty Flaco, Dante, the Boogie Man, and so on. In late 2006, he dropped the nearly fatally dull True Magic. A lackluster release with only a handful of tracks worth listening to, it had many of his loyal fans crying afoul.
People looking for offhanded symbolism can feel free to try tracking Mos Def's career trajectory as an MC through his album covers. Iconic solo debut Black on Both Sides: a stark, immediately-striking photo portrait that renders the attribution of his name unnecessary. Aggro experimental follow-up The New Danger: that same face now obscured by a stick-up man's mask, his bright red, bloody-looking index fingertip pointing to his own head on some Taxi Driver shit.
Review Summary: The Ecstatic puts Mos Def on an alternative track back towards hip-hop relevance.After The New Danger came out I was all but convinced that Mos Def had been lost permanently to rapper-slash territory. His first album post-The Italian Job, The New Danger wasn't terrible, but it left a lot to be desired. What was worrisome is that it became almost immediately clear that 'Def had other things going for him.
While Mos Def may have soured fans in the past few years by accepting acting roles ranging from a gold thief to Ford Prefect, his ability to craft a solid hip-hop album with post-rap nuances has never been in question. The Ecstatic begins with the Middle Eastern/rock-music-influenced Supermagic and doesn't let up on the sound clashes until the very end. Production by Madlib, Oh No, J Dilla, and Mr.
Q-Tip's recent The Renaissance set a pretty high bar for highly evolved 90s rappers returning to claim their post-Obama inheritance. And this improbably impeccable fifth album by Mos Def - aka Brooklyn's Dante Smith - sails elegantly over it. On first hearing, it's the musical and lyrical dynamism of The Ecstatic's predominantly eastward-looking first half that really grabs the attention - especially Slick Rick's inspired Iraq war-themed cameo appearance on the instant classic Auditorium w/The Ruler.
Mos Def might be the closest rap music has to a mythical creature. Rarely spotted, his legend resides in exploits that only few can remember with real clarity. This, the rapper's fourth album in 10 years, is largely made up of the same components that saw his debut, Black On Both Sides, hailed as a classic. There's Mos's fragmented lyrical style, which loops words within phrases and plays on sound as much as meaning; there are samples comprised largely of keys and strings; there are sung choruses and impromptu scatting.
Dante Terrell Smith seemed to have lost all interest in the rap game. Though his acting career could never be considered a vanity project of the likes of his gangsterish peers – he’s starred in films since the age of 14 – his prolific Hollywood turns appeared to signal his decline as one his generation’s finest emcees. Be it from a dearth of inspiration or terminal distraction, Mos Def’s prodigal talent at the mic had been put to one side.
It’s not easy being a Mos Def fan. In the decade since his exemplary solo debut, Black on Both Sides, he’s often either phoned it in or missed the mark entirely. His fourth album breaks that ?pattern with a decisive flourish. Mos is brimming with poetry again, hurling politically charged lyrics like lightning bolts against the thunderous beats behind him.
Mos Def returns from long strange trip with excitingly coherent new album At this point, you could be forgiven for knowing Mos Def as an actor rather than a musician. His name was synonymous with the late '90s’ resurgence of politically pugnacious hip-hop, but after his equally era-defining label, Rawkus Records, was absorbed into Interscope, Mos went mainstream as a thespian and plumbed new depths of self-indulgent awfulness as a musician. His latest, The Ecstatic, arrives on the 10-year anniversary of his classic debut, Black on Both Sides.
Mos Def :: The EcstaticDowntown RecordsAuthor: Jesal 'Jay Soul' PadaniaThere is a very valuable little trick - sorry, "method" - that I occasionally deploy if I'm undecided about an album. It doesn't always work, but it is an interesting acid test for certain bodies of work. Press the "Shuffle" button, and see what happens. If it drastically improves or reduces your listening experience, then you will find out the truth about what you REALLY THINK about the LP, not what you HOPED it would be.And that is what I needed to do with "The Ecstatic" - Mos Def's latest "return-to-form" comeback.
The opening lines of Mos Def‘s fourth studio album, The Ecstatic, describes the need for change. The word itself was our president’s driving theme and here, Mos Def uses it for that same purpose: the change needed can be something as small as a different record label. And on the Brooklyn MC’s new album, this change has revitalized him and allowed him to create his best album since Black on Both Sides.