Mos Def - The Ecstatic

Posted June 10, 2009

There was a time when I couldn’t imagine hip-hop without Mos Def. And then, slowly but...

The Ecstatic Album Review

There was a time when I couldn’t imagine hip-hop without Mos Def. And then, slowly but surely, it happened. The first time I heard Black on Both Sides I’s say sitting on my high school girlfriend’s couch and I literally stopped right in the middle of, um, sitting, to ask “Who’s this?” From then on I voraciously consumed every Mos Def verse ever made, memorized Ms. Fat Booty and Definition line for line. True, I didn’t love his sophomore album The New Danger, an attempt to reclaim rock n’ roll as a black music, but I respected his musical mission. And then True Magic dropped. It was like seeing an athlete you idolized as a kid buying cereal in a grocery store; he suddenly seemed very ordinary. Then a year went by, then another, then another, and I began to confront the very real possibility that hip-hop had buried Mos Def.

Hallelujah! He has arisen! Kind of. Just when it was looking like Mos was more interested in collecting Hollywood checks than grabbing a mic, he releases The Ecstatic, an album with distinctly underground roots that proves Mos Def’s tongue and mind are still some of the sharpest in the game. Now before you get too worked up, Ecstatic is by no means a triumphant return to Mos’ glory days, but it’s been so long since I’ve been excited about new Mos Def music I almost don’t care. Call it Desert Island Popsicle Syndrome: if you were rescued after being trapped on a desert island without food, and your rescuers gave you a popsicle, you’d better believe that’d be the best popsicle of your life.

More than almost any other rapper, Mos Def had the power to make me rewind tracks again and again, a hypnotic influence that occasionally holds sway over The Ecstatic. Auditorium is the album’s one “oh s**t” track, a song that’s so dope your brain shuts down and all you can say is, “oh s**t.” Built around a gorgeous Madlib beat that’s part Renaissance art, part Middle Eastern wedding, Mos Def spends Auditorium interweaving world politics and the struggles of everyday life with deft skill. Then, to top it off, Slick Rick (yes, that motherf**king Slick Rick) jumps on for an astounding verse. Oh s**t indeed. And of course I have to mention History, a BlackStar reunion track with Talib Kweli that once again demonstrates how perfectly the two MCs rhyme styles compliment each other. Frustratingly, Mos Def drops his best flow of the album in the final seconds of History – goddamn it Mos, why don’t you rhyme like that all the time?! Stop holding back! Still, the majority of Ecstatic, from the pounding Life in Marvelous Times to the entirely Spanish No Hay Nada Mas, is auditory evidence that Mos Def is capable of creating stunningly creative hip-hop, when he feels like it.

It’s not that any songs on Ecstatic are bad; they just feel uninspired. The album has more than a couple songs that will leave long time fans wishing for more, starting with Twilite Speedball. Produced by The Neptunes' Chad Hugo, Speedball features a horn-laced beat that Mos would have destroyed a decade ago, but today he sounds content to merely dance around the beat, never fully engaging. It’s the same story on the bouncing Worker’s Comp, a track that repeatedly devolves into Mos’ ill-advised warbling singing/rapping hybrid. Again, it’s not that these songs are bad, it’s just that we all know they could have been so much more (that’s right, I’m looking at you Revelations). In some ways, coming that close to greatness and not sealing the deal is even more frustrating than not getting there at all.

As good as it is, if The Ecstatic is the last album Mos Def ever makes, which frankly seems like a possibility, it will be a disappointing end to a stellar rap career. But for now let’s be optimistic. Let’s believe that this is merely a warm-up, a prelude to Mos’ next classic album. Yeah, let’s believe that. In fact, I have to believe that, because I still don’t want to imagine hip-hop without Mos Def.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted June 10, 2009
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