MUSIC REVIEW | Mos Def – The Ecstatic (2009)

MOs Def

I know close to nothing about hip hop. I know I like it in general, but I haven’t heard nearly enough outside the massive hits that invade the public pop consciousness. I realised I liked hip hop and needed to delve deeper a few years ago, through Mos Def’s kind of legendary solo debut, Black on Both Sides. I don’t know what made it stand out from everything else I’d heard before then, but it deserves all the credit for the small amount if rap and hip hop I’ve enjoyed since. If it wasn’t for Black on Both Sides, I never would have bothered with Kanye or Jay Z.

Kicking off with a real party starter, Supermagic sets the mood for something fun. Which is always an ingredient I like in hip hop. Sure, the lyrics can be dark, or violent, or tragic, but if you put them on a beat that sounds fun, I don’t give a shit what’s being said, I’ll like that song.

Things get a little more awkward, in a good way, on Twilite Speedball. The beat is a little more complex, the instruments are little out of left field, the rhymes intricate enough to keep up with the beat. Then it’s into a smooth groove with Auditorium, complete with half harpsichord / half Arabian nights style snake charm vibe. But none of that has a chance of standing out when it’s smothered by Mos Def’s relentless rhymes. When does he breathe?

While some of those more experimental sounds might stand out more, like in Quiet Dog, it’s not always for the right reasons. It’s sometimes the things I don’t like about a song that makes me notice it. Whereas a song like Life in Marvellous Time, with its big beats and soaring synths almost slides under the radar as I subliminally enjoy it, while consciously thinking about the things I didn’t like all the much about Quiet Dog.

Pointless sketch aside (aren’t all hip hop album sketches pointless though?), The Embassy brings back the snake charming flute sounds and perfectly combines the more experimental feel with the infectious grooves. Those two opposing elements seem to be a big part of The Ecstatic, but here, Def marries them perfectly.

There’s a wierd little suite kicking off the second half. Mos Def sings a lot more than I’d like. As a singer, he makes a really great rapper. So the melody heavy No Hay Nada Mas and Pistola, don’t make the greatest double feature on offer here. Pistola is a one song exhibit-A of why he should concentrate on his raping strengths and ditch his attempts at crooning.

Saving of the best for last, Roses, History and Casa Bey is a great trifecta to end on after a few underwhelming, almost disposable tracks like Workers Camp and Revelations.

When he’s good, Mos Def is amazing. And for the most part, when he’s bad, he’s at least intriguing. That’s the beauty of The Ecstatic. Even the songs I didn’t like still had more than enough to keep my interested. And I’d rather be perplexed than bored any day.

Mos Def

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