Jul 10, 2009 Web Exclusive
To say expectations were low for Mos Def’s fourth album is being far too generous. After the vile one-two punch of 2004’s messy, misguided New Danger and 2006’s inexcusable True Magic—a formless, contract-completing fuck you to Mos Def’s label and, by extension, to the fans who were loyal enough to buy a demo-like record that was ominously released with no publicity or even any cover art or inserts—there simply were no expectations for a new Mos Def album. Fans learned to treat future Mos Def releases like videotaped messages from Osama Bin Laden, unwelcome recordings that arrive sporadically but are best ignored.
But by the shameful standards Mos Def set for himself, any album with some semblance of effort was bound to be heralded as a return to form, and The Ecstatic puts forth that modicum of effort. Surprisingly, it isn’t just Mos Def sitting in his bathrobe, mumbling half-finished poetry into a tape recorder. It’s a real collection of real songs, real raps and—crucially—real beats, courtesy of producers like Madlib and Madlib’s likeminded little brother, Oh No, who lend the album the same blunted, jazzy oddness of so many Stones Throw Records releases.
The songs are brief and direct, the best of them hit hard and make a real impression, and the worst breeze by innocuously, instead of lingering like Mos’ painful past failures. And for the first time in nearly a decade, Mos appears genuinely eager to please, singing and rapping like he didn’t just roll out of bed. He’s rusty, though, and his rhymes lack clarity and the forceful, charismatic delivery of his stunning late-’90s work. He passed on his chance to be rap’s great white hope, and he may not get another, but at least he’s beginning to fight his reputation as a career-squandering, fan-backstabbing slacker. If he’s serious about atoning for the last decade, he’s got his work cut out for him, but The Ecstatic is a start.
Author rating: 6/10
Average reader rating: 9/10