Mos Def is hip-hop's ultimate Renaissance Man. He established himself as an avant-garde lyricist on his 1999 classic debut, Black on Both Sides. Over the past 10 years, Mos went on to garner rave reviews, not for his music, but for his screen work. His spoken word performances have been immortalized on YouTube. It was as if Mos Def was prolific at everything except hip-hop.
Despite being one of the brightest MCs in the game, Mos struggled to make consistently good albums. The two long-players that followed up his debut -- 2004’s The New Danger and 2006's True Magic -- left fans disgruntled. In fact, he didn't even bother to include an album cover with Tru3 Magic, an album that some claimed was hurriedly released to fulfill label obligations to Geffen.
One listen to The Ecstatic and you'll forget and forgive Mos Def's past transgressions. Pretty Flaco has conquered his demons. The album finds Mos returning to the breath-defying, head-spinning lyricism that made Black on Both Sides a hip-hop favorite.
Back for the First Time
The Ecstatic is Mos Def's fourth solo album, but it plays like a semi-sequel to Black on Both Sides. The same mind-bending lyricism that graced that album helps Mos achieve great results on this one. While The New Danger and True Magic had some fleeting moments of glory, those records were largely disappointing. The Ecstatic, on the other hand, is progressive, forward-thinking hip-hop at its finest.
Unlike BOBS, however, Ecstatic is not an instant banger. This 16-track album takes a few dozen spins to fully absorb.
A Gumbo of Juicy Tracks and Gritty Beats
Musically, Ecstatic is diverse, rhythmic, and gritty. Beats by Madlib, J Dilla, and Oh No serve as a backdrop for Mos Def's thoughtful musings on politics, society, and relationships.
On the charming "Workers Comp," Mos dons his motivational speaker hat: "Tell the tough guys we tougher than tough times, and nerves don't snap when the clock cuts crunch time." The juggling act of his previous albums leads to a more balanced approach on The Ecstatic.
Even when he throws a curveball on "No Hay Nada Mas," it does little to dim the brilliance of the entire album. "Life in Marvelous Times" finds him reminiscing about an impoverished Bed-Stuy childhood where the "green grass was brown" and then eases into the brighter present, where there are "wonders on every side."
The album is light on guests. Slick Rick shows that he hasn't lost his storytelling chops on "Auditorium," while "History" reunites Mos Def with his Black Star partner Talib Kweli over a grim J Dilla beat.
Bottom Line on 'The Ecstatic'
Throughout The Ecstatic, it's apparent that Mos Def is having fun once more. He's energized and inspired for 45 minutes. His seemingly effortless flow graces every beat wonderfully to yield a hypnotic album. This is magnetic art. Stick it in your system.Top Tracks:
- "Twilite Speedball"
- "Quiet Dog"