May 9, 2009

Mos Def - The New Danger (October 19, 2004)




Five years after the release of his debut album, Black On Both Sides, Next Day Air's Mos Def figured it was time to give the world some more music. Although his first solo disc sold over half a million copies and spawned a couple of surprise hits, Dante Smith elected to leave his New York home base to find acting work out West. This wasn't altogether surprising, as unlike most other rappers, Mos Def was always a rapper-slash-actor, studying theater at NYU and appearing alongside Bill Cosby on The Cosby Mysteries before his Black Star duo (with fellow Rawkus Records artist Talib Kweli) was ever drunkenly conceived. But the man never stopped rapping: he started off in a group, Urban Thermo Dynamics, which also featured his younger brother and sister, and went solo in 1996, quickly becoming one of the Rawkus go-to men for street cred and critical acclaim.

After Rawkus folded, Mos was shifted over to Geffen records, and apparently the lateral move affected his mind, as he decided he wanted to make his sophomore release a full-on rock album featuring his band, Black Jack Johnson, which featured artists from Living Colour and Bad Brains. This news pissed off a lot of his fans who adored Black On Both Sides, but since one of his bigger tracks from that disc was "Umi Says", which featured Mos Def not rapping, I thought nothing of it. Also, rappers make stupid boasts like this all the time: phrases such as "This is my last album; I'm retiring", "I want to make a rock album", and "I didn't rape her, I got it on tape!" have become commonplace in our chosen genre, so I tend to hold judgment until someone actually follows through. And for the most part, I'm still waiting.

The New Danger, Mos Def's second album, eventually became an amalgam of rock, hip hop, soul, and blues, a combination which essentially alienated everybody. I don't remember any singles ever dropping, nor any videos being shot, but the Interweb has proven me wrong, so maybe my mind was otherwise occupied in 2004. (Apparently, one of the following tracks was even nominated for a Grammy. Who knew?) Admittedly, I didn't pick this album up until after news broke that the second pressings would erase one of the tracks due to objectionable content, something which I'll get to in a bit, and my collector's gene is hard-wired to snatch up items such as this, no matter how insipid that extra song ended up being. It's kind of like how my wife ran out to find the "uncensored" version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for me after the "Hot Coffee" scandal broke.

Enjoy!

1. THE BOOGIE MAN SONG
I'm sure that even fans of Black On Both Sides couldn't have seen this coming: Mos Def croons to a slow build of a beat, co-produced by himself and Raphael Saddiq. (I'm aware that the man sang on his debut, but not to this extent.) I actually really liked this, though, and not just because it's not a rap album intro. There's something about the phrase “Let me be your favorite nightmare” that is both creepy and appealing.

2. FREAKY BLACK GREETINGS
The first remnants of the original second album from Mos Def (originally titled after his band, Black Jack Johnson) are found here, on what is essentially a rock album intro. (Sigh...) I'm still not entirely sure what happened to Mos Def's rock band, but the idea died a quick death prior to The New Danger's release. Maybe the label balked at Dante's blatant attempt to alienate his fans, or maybe the other Jack Johnson walked barefoot into a Hawaiian courthouse and filed a lawsuit. I guess we'll never know. Unless, of course, Mos Def just tells us.

3. GHETTO ROCK
This isn't that bad. The first outright hip hop track on The New Danger finds Mos spitting some of the most random lyrics I've heard in a while (he even quotes Trick Daddy at one point), but Minnesota's marching beat is a marvel to hear. The “ghetto rock” sound effect throughout hurts the eardrums, though. I believe this is the song that copped the Grammy nod, by the way.

4. ZIMZALLABIM
The guitars aren't as distracting as some hip hop purists may fear, but I didn't find anything special about this track anyway (even though it was co-produced by Mos and Easy Mo Bee), so you two can still feel free to skip it.

5. THE RAPE OVER
Dante's anti-Semitic, homophobic rant against the record industry was deleted from later pressings of The New Danger. Ostensibly, this was done so as not to offend anybody (the existence of this track is puzzling anyway, considering that Mos Def is also an actor, thereby possibly pissing off his bosses within two separate industries), but I have a sneaky suspicion that the real reason this song was pulled is because Mos Def beat-jacks Jay-Z's “The Takeover”, and although Kanye West (the original song's producer) is credited with this track as well, it took until the album was released for someone to catch that. Also, because the song isn't very good.

6. BLUE BLACK JACK
Although any song inserted after the ridiculousness that is “The Rape Over” would sound out of place, the bluesy twang that this track provides tries its best to fit in, and while it's ultimately too fucking long of a song for anybody to care, it's an interesting experiment, and it's not the worst song ever recorded or anything. I can't imagine Dante's hardcore fans spinning this track more than the once, though.

7. BEDSTUY PARADE & FUNERAL MARCH (FEAT PAUL OSCHER)
In print ads for The New Danger, this track was prominently featured (as in: “Includes the hits 'Blahblahrunonsentence' and 'Bedstuy Parade & Funeral March'”). I can't imagine that anybody, not even Mos, seriously considered this track to be a viable way to market the disc, so I can only assume that its mention in the ad was intended as a joke. While the music itself if awfully good, Mos Def's random musings border on pretentiousness.

8. SEX, LOVE, & MONEY
I didn't like this track, regardless of its straight-up hip hop vibe, not simply because of its generic title, but because Warryn Campbell's beat sounds like an afterthought, as if the producer found some drum samples on his computer and had some random kid come in and play on the recorder.

9. SUNSHINE
I wasn't feeling the beat on here, either, but at least Kanye West put a bit of effort into it (somebody had to find that vocal sample, after all). Dante rhymes his ass off on here, and while nothing here approaches the best moments on either Black On Both Sides or the Black Star project, it still isn't bad.

10. CLOSE EDGE
Mos rhymes his ass off on here as well, with a track that made its debut on Chappelle's Show back in the day. (As much as I miss that show, I have a feeling that, had Dave kept it going, right now people would be complaining about the dip in quality and wondering why it was still on the air.) The pseudo-video on the show featured Dave and Dante driving around, with Mos rhyming from the passenger seat. This could have easily appeared on Black On Both Sides, and in this case, that is a really good thing.

11. THE PANTIES
Dante has a one-sided conversation with a lady friend, and although his voice seems to crack while he's singing, the song isn't that bad. The Minnesota beat is an added bonus, especially when the drums kick in: it's rare that the inclusion of a drum beat can help make a song feel even more relaxed, but here you go.

12. WAR
An incoherent mess. I'm not a fan of multi-layered vocals (unless I'm drunk at the club) in general, but especially not in hip hop, and when the guitars kick in, the gloves come off, and the level of toleration drops rapidly. Mos ends the song shouting, seemingly just because he felt the need to. Almost as useless as most actual wars.

13. GROWN MAN BUSINESS (FRESH VINTAGE BOTTLES) (FEAT MINNESOTA)
This Barry White sample is awfully popular in hip hop (both Ghostface Killah and Nas have utilized it in the past decade). Minnesota, who mans the boards behind much of this album, actually comes off really well, and Dante sounds good to boot.

14. MODERN MARVEL
The beginning of this way-too-long track is a test of your patience, akin to Clarence on that one episode of Wonder Showzen. (Oh, how that show fell the fuck apart in its second and final season.) When the song finally starts, you've already stopped giving a damn, and more than likely, you've already skipped ahead to “Life Is Real”. For those of you that are curious, though, you'll be glad to know that the song both sucks and is not worth the buildup.

15. LIFE IS REAL
This Molecules (who?) beat sounds like something Ghostface would spit to on an off day. Dante sounds bored, as if even he grew tired of the previous track, and needed to take a nap.

16. THE EASY SPELL
I didn't hate this song. The low-lying guitars suit the feel of the track fairly well, and Dante's lyrics, although repetitive and kind of dumb, sound good when combined with the instrumental. It probably helps that I can only picture Mos Def performing this track dressed up as his character from the “Racial Draft” sketch from Chappelle's Show.

17. THE BEGGAR
I thought this song was pretty interesting, but the hip hop fans have long since abandoned The New Danger for the poison of their choice, so they may never get the chance to actually hear it. A note to my two readers: you should probably try to listen to “The Beggar” at least the once, even if only to check it off of your bucket list.

18. CHAMPION REQUIEM
An okay way to end your album, albeit in a ridiculously pompously titled-way. “May-December” was a better outro, though.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The New Danger gets a lot of shit for being almost the polar opposite of Black On Both Sides, but here's the thing: you really can't compare the two albums, even if they come from the same guy and touch on sort-of similar themes, because The New Danger dares to not be classified as straight-up hip hop. (Which, of course, means that you can only find this disc in the rap section of your local record shop, since nobody would really know where to put it otherwise.) Mos Def went off the deep end with this disc (probably because he was too busy filming movies to give a damn), but musically, most of this album is rather entertaining. If you're able to sidestep the pretentiousness (which there, surprisingly, isn't that much of), you'll find an unheralded album that doesn't deserve any awards, but should still capture your attention.

BUY OR BURN? Unlike most critics and bloggers, I'm going to recommend that you actually pick this one up. Used, if you can: you can probably find a copy for a couple of bucks. If you're a fan of Black On Both Sides, you'll probably find something to love on here, and as an added perk, you'll be able to tell your friends about Mos Def songs that they most likely have never heard of.

BEST TRACKS: “Close Edge”; “Ghetto Rock”; “Grown Man Business”; “The Boogie Man Song”

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Some more stuff from Dante for your enjoyment.

11 comments:

  1. AnonymousMay 10, 2009

    As usual I dont agree with u on many songs.

    However I have a question which is why do u say "Burn the damn thing" for Black on Both Sides and then constantly praise BOBS and claiming "this song wouldnt have made it on to the album" etc.

    Anyhow BOBS owns this album. I must admit I liked close edge though.

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  2. You cant be for real Max - buy this unfocused, boring ass piece of crap but burn Black on both Sides? You got to be kidding... is that the invention of the ironic recommendations?

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  3. I really enjoyed this album, possibly because I heard it before I'd listened to BOBS or Black Star. without any predecessors to compare it to at the time, based on it's own merits, I thought it was pretty sweet.

    then again, I also enjoyed Electric Circus... an acknowledgement with which my opinion quite likely loses all credibility.

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  4. AnonymousMay 11, 2009

    Max your taste in hip hop is borderline garbage. Either that or you're just trying to piss off everybody.

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  5. I just CANNOT get into this album!!! Plus I PISSED at him!!! Dude comes out here to South Africa and....wait for it...SINGS!!!!! I payed money to book myself a plane ticket down to Cape Town plus for a ticket to the Jazz Fest for that!!?!?!?!? Than when he does rap, he does cover songs like "Stake Is High" (the original, not the remix version where he drops a verse. WTF???!??!?!

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  6. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessMay 14, 2009

    Take a picture with this platinum-plated sledgehammer.

    Mos was on Real Time With Bill Maher a couple years ago and Bill said that he's the shot clock- he's above the game. That was cool. Dante pretty much dominated throughout his appearance on the show for what it's worth.

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  7. max seriously your one of the stupidest bloggers in history, you want us to buy one of the worst mos def albums and not buy Black on Both Sides???? what kind of a blogger are you??

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  8. shiity albu,, go cop his first CD and as for the cocking sucking without good tase in music reviewer should retire om reviewing

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  9. What exactly is 'anti-semitic and homophobic' about The Rape Over?

    Stop trying to be politcally correct, dick - it's hip-hop.

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  10. To be honest, I liked this Album. I thought it was more entertaining than disappointing. It's multi-genre album so you are going to hear random genre because that's mos Def. This album is deep. pick this one up people.

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  11. Co-sing on the politically correct sentiment (regarding the Rape Over)...I definitely enjoy your blog and writing style. But your downfall is your Political Correctness, an example is your comment on "Ain't No Fun" in Doggystyle. You won't even allow yourself to talk about the song (I'm guessing b/c you feel uncomfortable w/the lyrics and subject matter, albeit in a relatively positive manner that empowers the song). Instead you just indirectly acknowledge it with a joke. No offense man, just an observation.

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