Mos Def – The Ecstatic

July 29, 2009

mos-def-the-ecstaticThe past five years have seen Mos Def earn more acclaim for his appearances on the big screen than for what he’s put on wax. Hardcore fans had reason to believe that Mos had left his only indelible mark on the game with his solo debut Black on Both Sides, released a decade ago. Counting myself amongst this constituency, I had long resided to the fact that Both Sides would be his opus, a plateau that couldn’t be approached again.

After a five-year hiatus, Mos Def returned in 2004 with The New Danger, a rock/rap hybrid that introduced his house band The Black Jack Johnson. The release polarized critics and confused fans. Further perpetuating the public perception that he had traded music for film was the 2006 release, True Magic, a mailed-in, lethargic effort that was later waved off as a contractual obligation to his then-record company, Geffen.

Now, just when you thought it might be safe to exhale and move on from Mos’ rap career, dude fires back with The Ecstatic, the album fans have been patiently anticipating for a half-decade. A true return to form, The Ecstatic finds Mos spitting with the old-school bravado and incisive social commentary that made him a Rawkus star.

Immediately noticeable is the strength of the production, which features moody tracks from J Dilla and Stones Throw mainstays Madlib and Oh No (Madlib’s younger brother). The beats on The Ecstatic have a worldly feel to them, particularly “The Auditorium,” which could have been borrowed directly from a Bollywood soundtrack and “The Empire,” which sounds plucked from a Middle Eastern market. The production is less straightforward than the boom-bap of Both Sides, but no less neck snapping. In fact, the more the listener is willing to engage in the beats, the more one is able to appreciate Mos Def’s ability to ride the track with his flow, adding a rhythmic element unto himself. This is no more evident than on the instantly catchy “Quiet Dog,” on which Mos dishes a dose of braggadocio over a swing bassline and relentless soul clap. “History,” another standout, features Black Star cohort Talib Kweli, and almost, if only for a moment, brings it back to 1998. “Ten years ago we made history so they missing us,” declares Kweli, only to be followed by Mos who warns, “Don’t call it comeback in particular,” if only to quell any high hopes. With The Ecstatic, Mos Def has achieved just that, a comeback. And with a new Kweli/Hi-Tek single on the airwaves, we’re allowed to at least cross our fingers, aren’t we?

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