Artist: Mos Def
Label: Downtown Records
Due Out: June 9th
Admittedly, this year has been fairly barren thus far, in regards to notable/high-quality rap/hip hop releases. Enter Mos Def. Probably one of the most anticipated releases in the genre this year, The Ecstatic is classic Mos Def, with his original and recognizable lyrical delivery, and broad cast of contributors making for something both thought-provoking and dance-worthy. Overall, Def's beats here are some of the best you'll witness in 2009, as a new, more club-friendly backing track seems to accompany some songs. Whether you're new to the artist, or a longtime listener, I can tell you, you'll find this one worthy of a continuous loop throughout your summer playlist.
The Ecstatic begins with "Supermagic," first a social statement, then an explosive, guitar-centric jam that will have you nodding your head within seconds. As I said, I found a heavier emphasis on the background beats here than ever before with Def's work, and I believe it was definitely to the album's benefit. "Twilite Speedball" kicks in next, with ominous horns and a darker tone than the previous track. There's a lot going on, as the aforementioned horns, busy percussion parts and guitar spots faceoff underneath the constant lyrical commentary. Next, "Auditorium" gives us a taste of some of the older Mos Def sound, along with shades of DangerDoom, as Slick Rick contributes to the first Mad Lib-produced track on the record. It mixes an active classical arrangement with a solid beat, to form a complete and intriguing song, sometimes straightforward, and other times, shrouded in some mystery. "Wahid" quickly kicks in afterwards for a fairly short interlude, once again sampling classical arrangements for a strong background to the fairly simple lyrical foreground.
Another quick track, "Priority" is next, this time employing piano as Def makes the most of the minute and 22 seconds he's got here to talk about, what else, but priorities. Those who've been paying attention will probably recognize the track immediately after, "Quiet Dog Bite Hard" as one of Def's singles from earlier this year, "Quiet Dog". Simple, and based on a quick percussion beat and clapping track, tempo-wise, it is one of the album's fastest songs, and one which you might get so caught up in what's going on in the background, that you'll completely forget about the lyrics. Then we arrive at my favorite song on the album, and in my opinion, the most complete as well, "Life In Marvelous Times". A strong club beat accompanies statements about taking advantage of what we have the opportunity to accomplish is seemingly hard times. Notes taken, this is another one you'll find yourself bopping to within a second or to. "The Embassy" is the first track to really hold back on the record, as it takes over a minute to get past the spoken intro, and keeps fairly quiet in comparison to other songs.
To some dismay, this continues on "No Hay Nada Mas," a track which operates completely in Spanish, and also fails to really let loose from a musical standpoint, like the beginning of the album did. "Pistola" comes next, starting with a lot of energy, before mellowing out. From here, and progressing nearly to the end, it would seem that many of the songs are more geared towards Mos Def's normal lyric-centric style, instead of the radio-friendly hits we heard at the beginning. Not necessarily terrible, but something worth noting, nonetheless. "Pretty Dancer" follows suit as well, featuring an active, yet subdued background to Def's strong and apparent vocal stylings. "Worker's Comp." picks up similarly afterwards, once again shifting the stress from music to lyrics on a track that exists in small spurts of exuberance interspersed with elements of a slow jam.
"Revelations" walks over a playful flute/xylophone background as we hit the home stretch. The early portions of the album seemingly in the distant past. Luckily for the listener, the silence is broken soon after, with "Roses," a duet of sorts with Georgia Anne Muldrow. It's jazzy, and a bit off-kilter at times, but not in a bad way. The apparent sounds of discord are indeed intentional, and what we find is a interesting track which combines several musical genres and elements to form one of the more intrepid works on the album. Rarely do you think of Mos Def without some kind of association to fellow alternative hip hop artist Talib Kweli, so it would make sense that he makes his assumed appearance on the next track, "History". The song re-establishes parts of the earlier vibe, using a guitar- and vocal-based background to create a strong and confident statement in the fairly short time you have with it. Then it all comes full circle with "Casa Bey," a song that was just recently released as the third single for the album. Another fun and jazzy number, Mos Def may be at his lyrical best here, blending the various styles contained within the record for an appropriate period on what was The Ecstatic.
To me, The Ecstatic is many things. One of the best hip hop records of the year thus far. An interesting experiment with different styles within Mos Def's overall sound. An enjoyable album. As well as one that could have done a lot more at the same time. The Ecstatic's slowing down for the second half was not as effective as intended, nor as successful as may have been hoped either. The early parts of this album were full of a real life and energy, and it was a shame to just let that drop out. However, that is not to say that the remainder of the album was a failure. In the scope of what Mos Def's work normally consists of the tracks were, indeed, successful and enjoyable. Moreover, I'd say that this is probably more of a personal issue than a true and glaring problem with the album, so don't let it leave a bad taste in your mouth. Purchase and enjoy. Similarities may include, but are, of course, not limited to the aforementioned Talib Kweli, The Roots and Q-Tip.
Best Track: "Life In Marvelous Times"