There is a lot about Mos Def’s latest release, The Ecstatic, that simply doesn’t fit in with the rest of his catalog. This isn’t the voice that the MC spoke with on the classic Black On Both Sides or Black Star, and, luckily for listeners, it isn’t the washed up Italian Job actor trying to drop some True Magic on his audience, either. Instead, this album is best understood as a great return to hip-hop relevance.
Everything great about The Ecstatic is unexpected, especially after the standard issue single, “Life In Marvelous Times”—a steel-laced track filled with a little too much upbeat instrumentation—was released months ago in preparation for a December release date. Delays and expectations aside, the finished product arrives at eager listeners’ headphones boasting a confused array of unconventional production techniques and a new take on old beat-making.
Beats best described as shadowy, from Madlib and the revolutionary J Dilla, serve as a backdrop to the MC’s newly-discovered wordplay skills. The album’s opener, “Supermagic,” draws on The New Danger’s combination of rock ‘n’ roll and good ol’ hip hop, but manages to avoid the awkwardness that usually results from the mixing of those two genres.
“Supermagic” is immediately followed by the Pharaohe Monch-esque “Twilite Speedball” and the definitive album highlight, “Auditorium.” This five minute track never loses speed, but before things get too repetitive it collapses in on itself and rebuilds from square one. The simple Madlib beat makes no effort at keeping the drum and bass pounding, letting the song flow with simple dynamics; the Slick Rick appearance is the perfect flourish.
The Ecstatic‘s other highlights, “The Embassy” and “Quiet Dog Bite Hard,” epitomize why this album is such a breath of fresh air in the current Hip Hop scene where the easiest thing to do is repackage someone else’s Billboard hit. “The Embassy” is a minimalist take on beat-making and flow with simple messages (accompanied by one of the creepiest intros to date in the genre) that perfectly captures the general atmosphere of the album. “Quiet Dog Big Hard” plays off a hand-clap laden shuffle and preaches a message that best describes this album: the things you don’t expect are most likely to hit you the hardest.
The main problem with the release is its inconsistency. Tracks like “No Hay Nada Mas” are interesting in theory, but don’t score high in terms of listenability. And the return of Black Star in “History” brings back the old Mos Def, but doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the album.
While it may not fall into classic status quite yet, The Ecstatic‘s highlights make it a hell of a good listen.
Head over to Mos Def’s myspace to hear to the album in it’s entirety and judge for yourself if this is a comeback, or if the MC’s supermagic is just another True Magic.