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Mos Def rusty after long hiatus

Kenyatta Storin | Thursday, December 2, 2004

Mos Def fans beware – this is not the same Mos Def of five years ago. Back in the late 90s, Mos Def came out with “Black Star” (with Talib Kweli) and his solo debut “Black on Both Sides,” and immediately became one of hip-hop’s top up-and-coming artists. A gifted and socially conscious rapper, he provided an intellectual alternative to gangsta rap, much like rap groups De La Soul, Brand Nubian and A Tribe Called Quest. However, after the release of “Black on Both Sides,” Mos Def decided to pursue other endeavors, acquiring several acting roles (“The Italian Job,” “Monster’s Ball”), appearing on Broadway (“Topdog/Underdog”) and starting the rock band, Black Jack Johnson. After this long hiatus, Mos Def has finally come out with his second solo release, “The New Danger,” but unfortunately he has lost much of the magic that once made him great. On the album, Mos Def brings in a number of music genres aside from hip-hop, including rock, soul and blues. Unfortunately, the result is a messy musical montage, with awkward transitions between tracks. Furthermore, Mos Def’s attempts at some of these genres are pedestrian at best. On tracks like “The Panties” and “Modern Marvel” he puts his singing at the forefront, and while he is a better singer than most rappers, he still is not good enough to carry songs with his voice. His attempt at blues on “Blue Black Jack” is also nothing special.Black Jack Johnson, is featured on several tracks, and after one listen it becomes quickly apparent why the band does not have its own album yet. The group’s guitar riffs and grooves are listenable, but ultimately basic and uninspiring. For the most part, the band seems out of place on the album, showing Mos Def likely included it for the sole purpose of giving his band publicity. Not surprisingly, Mos Def is at his best when he sticks to rapping. Aside from Kanye West, the album has no big-name producers, but the beats, while not stellar, are generally pretty effective. If there is any track that would make a good single, it would be “Sex, Love & Money,” which has a simple, but effective flute and bass beat. “Sunshine” and “Grown Man Business” are also quality hip-hop tracks.But as one would expect from a five-year hiatus, Mos Def’s flow is more flawed than it was before the new millennium. For instance, there are several instances where Mos Def rhymes the same word twice: “Layin the cut like they not gon’ know /Cuz if I gotta make a move dawg they not gonna know.” Also, he often falls into repetitious rapping patterns, rhyming the same sounds over and over: “Like, Hail Mary, full of grace / [people] come in and shoot up the place / And make you pull up your face / The deck, I’m a pull out the ace.” But his biggest area of decline is his song content. While there are glimpses of social commentary, it is a far cry from the provocative lines he used to flow. This is exhibited best by one the album’s worst cuts, “The Rape Over,” an attack on the hip-hop industry that remakes Jay-Z’s song, “Takeover.” On it, he ends with the lame line, “Quasi-homosexuals is running this rap s–,” something he never would have said before. Even worse, the song abruptly ends shortly after this line, with Mos Def simply muttering, “that’s it,” which makes one wonder exactly how much effort Mos Def put into the album.For a man of Mos Def’s talents, it is hard to call “The New Danger” anything but a disappointment. It still has its moments here and there, but it is nowhere near the quality of “Black on Both Sides” and “Black Star.” Clearly, Mos Def has lost the drive he once had in his music. Hopefully, he finds something to inspire him again for his next album, and will once again resemble the groundbreaking emcee he once was.