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. True Magic
, an album most people would pay to forget, solidified this. Mos Def could now comfortably be put in the same conversation as Common and Will Smith. I figured he'd continue rapping, I just never imagined myself caring about it again. Well, The Ecstatic
is here and it's made me care. While it won't have me punning on it's title, I'm at least happy to have him back. Far from a classic but far from True Magic
, The Ecstatic
is worth more than a passing glance. And here's why.
does a great job at easing the listener into Mos Def's new left-of-centre aesthetic. Sandwiched between Oh No's Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious-like “Supermagic” and Madlib's Madvillain-esque “Auditiorium”, the Chad Hugo produced “Twilite Speedball” may be a little too close to Pharoahe Monch's “Simon Says” for comfort, but its almost total lack of thump and emphasis on the one-two-trumpet-guitar beat perfectly complete the album's opening three song punch, bookended by Madlib and his brother's distinguished production work. If I had any doubts about The Ecstatic
, “Auditorium” put them to rest. Madlib's production work manages to make something out of nothing (the samples might as well be muzak) and the Slick Rick appearance dots the is and crosses the ts on what quickly becomes one the years strongest tracks. But the album doesn't tail off after arguably it's best track, because Mos Def has done an excellent job at recruiting a diverse line-up of producers and performers who manage to all put their fingerprints on the music without making the album sound like a third-rate compilation.
From “Wahid”'s synthesized take on the club banger to the reggae-tinged, “Umi Says” infused “Workers Comp.”, Mos Def inserts bits of his own flair into the masterworks of his list of varied super producers. On an album full of head-scratchers, it's only on the inexplicably lazy (and explicitly Spanish) “No Hay Nada Mas” that'll have you breaking skin. And that's why The Ecstatic
is great. Not only is it the complete opposite of what I expected from Mos Def, The Ecstatic
is light-years away from his classic sound and several aisle's left of centre. It'd be lunacy to call it a cash-in. It's only on the Dilla produced, Black Star re-uniting “History” that it really clicks that this is the same guy who sang “1, 2, 3...it's Mos Def and Talib Kweli”. Of course the most reminiscent aspect of “History” has to be the hearty reminder that, as talented as he is, Talib Kweli is always better when he's only making an appearance.
is solid from front to back, but it's not always entirely cohesive. The production is uniquely executed, with the beats often focusing more on sample placement than drums and bass, but it's this lack of a low-end that sometimes makes your head nod in backwards directions. Mos Def's rhymes, as a result, sometimes get lost in the shuffle. As such. The Ecstatic
is the quintessential grower, and for some that won't be easy to take. But rest assured it will grow on you and after a couple of spins you'll have the soulful, Latin funk of “Casa Bey” and the snappy rhymes of tracks like “Quiet Dog Bite Hard” stuck in your head. This time around, the ends definitely justify the means.