The opening lines of Mos Def‘s fourth studio album, The Ecstatic, describes the need for change. The word itself was our president’s driving theme and here, Mos Def uses it for that same purpose: the change needed can be something as small as a different record label. And on the Brooklyn MC’s new album, this change has revitalized him and allowed him to create his best album since Black on Both Sides.
One thing is for sure, his flow is impeccably skillful and wealthier than ever. Just listening to his sweet singing at the end of “Auditorium” reveals a pleasantly relaxed Mos Def. And this is one that is confidently looking outward at all that he can conquer, rather than someone lost in the “what-ifs.” The tightness of “Priority” finds the rapper rhyming over a horn and piano line grooving to the left and right as he raps, “Love before anything, real before everything…priority.”
Take “Case Bey,” with bumping synths and snappy horns, the only track that is co-produced by Mos Def just happens to be one of the best. Placed at the end, it’s a resounding finale that will leave the listener assured that he isn’t going anywhere. And where Preservation’s production on that track is bouncy and tight, Oh No’s production on “Pistola” is rough around the edges and gritty, encompassing Mos Def into a very “real” feeling.
With the help of gifted and talented producers teaming up to construct richly textured songs, Mos Def does the rest. There is Chad Hugo’s booming bass, found in the form of a honking trombone, on “Twilite Speedball,” Madlib’s repetitive shuffle and grime on “Pretty Dancer,” and Mr. Flash’s space-like atmosphere on “Life in Marvelous Times.” For those easily confounded, this may not make sense but for someone that set out to make something diverse, determined and destined to impress, it all works out just fine.
The back story for this is that True Magic was released under reserved and constrained requests. Eager for a way out of his contract with Interscope/Geffen, Mos Def opted to quietly fulfill his obligations and get out. Releasing the album without any cover art in a clear plastic case, it was obvious that it was the result of a broken relationship. And now, taking nearly three years to release a new album, he sounds extraordinarily vibrant on The Ecstatic.
“Roses” is especially moving because it plays out like a modern Porgy and Bess. Ultimately classy and with a resolute stride, Georgia Anne Muldrow leads the song with her powering voice. Whereas MosDef’s voice has always carried a particular tone and timbre-it’s easily picked out wherever he appears-I just never knew he could sing Spanish so well, as he does on “No Hay Nada Mas,” which smoothly translates into, “There is nothing else.”
It’s almost surreal, like an impossible dream to hear Mos Def sounding like this. It’s always great to see one of our better artists achieving a return to form, but it’s usually successful with leveled results. But on The Ecstatic, Mos Def is certainly back and he has released the best hip-hop album of the year, so far.