Review: Mos Def, The Ecstatic

While most of the songs find funky mid-paced groove, the occasional uptempo beat brings a welcome burst of energy. “Quiet Dog” pummels along on a fast quasi-swing beat (decorated with handclaps) and throbbing bass, evoking a hip-hop version of Ellington-esque jungle jazz. The percolating “Casa Bey” matches spitfire rhymes with a lush, symphonic soul backdrop.

Not all of the disc’s 16 tracks are gems, but by and large The Ecstatic represents some of the best hip-hop has to offer at the moment. (Downtown)

Check out "Quiet Dog" (with a still photo)

Hip-hop seems adrift, with no particular faction dominating the pop psyche (or the charts). Bling-rap isn’t resonating as much lately, these being trying times and all. The current landscape is perfect for a multi-facted, thinking artist such as Mos Def, whose fourth studio album, The Ecstatic, continues his impressive body of musical work.

The 35-year-old Brooklyn native — who has, perhaps more than any other rapper, made a mark in film, TV and theater — has never had much use for rules. And even though Mos Def is a middling music star, he still approaches his recordings with a decided indie hip-hop aesthetic.

That shows in his choice of producers —Madlib, Preservation, Mr. Flash, J Dilla — who collectively let the rhythm tracks breath, allowing room for Mos Def’s relaxed, conversational flow. Complementing the urban scrapyard of sounds, snippets of found dialogue and arcane samples are various jazz elements like vibes and horns and a handful of Middle Eastern-type chants.

Mos Def, a Muslim, avoids clichéd ’hood themes in favor of utopian ideas (“Revelation”) and commentary about everyday life (“Workers Comp”).

The album has moments of clever irony — like, on the intro the “The Embassy,” where a captain addresses his passengers and describes in detail the guns they have in the cabin.


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Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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