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Mos Def: The Ecstatic

July 2, 2009  |  9:00am
Mos Def: <em>The Ecstatic</em>

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. Anniversaries are a time for reflection, and for long stretches of the album, Mos remembers with a start that he’s an exceptionally talented rapper. The rootless “experimental” gambits that plagued 2006 train-wreck True Magic crop up occasionally—the Spanish-language track “No Way Nada Mas” (cool idea, but rapping in Spanish doesn’t mean you have to sound like Slowpoke Rodriguez), the cheesy patois of “Workers Comp”, and a smattering of karaoke-caliber singing. But on “Twilite Speedball,” “Quiet Dog Bite Hard,” “Life in Marvelous Times,” and many others, he rivets his limber flow to the beat and effortlessly produces the kind of good-natured braggadocio and gymnastic wordplay of his glory days. This isn’t the only sign that Mos is looking back—there’s a great cameo from old-school legend Slick Rick, and a reunion track with Talib Kweli, his former partner in the group Black Star (called “History,” no less). But it’s also modern, with the kind of exotic pan-global production (from Euro-club to Turkish-psych) that’s a must in the post-Timbaland era. (But Mos, why no Auto-Tune? It’s okay now!) That’s what we call re-centering. Even the Malcolm X sample that opens the album can’t quell the feeling that Mos’ revolutionary capital is long-since spent, but it’s good to know that he can still save his music, if not the world.

Listen to Mos Def's "Life in Marvelous Times" from The Ecstatic:

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