June 10, 2009

My Gut Reaction: Mos Def - The Ecstatic (June 9, 2009)

The Ecstatic is rapper-slash-singer-slash-actor Mos Def's fourth solo album, but you're forgiven if you had no idea this disc was dropping until you re-read last Sunday's Best Buy sales ad. It seems that Next Day Air wasn't really the right vehicle to advertise Mos Def's return to the hip hop game, especially because, as I understand it, Dante barely appears on screen. And yet, he received a bigger credit than the guy who played Avon Barksdale on The Wire, mainly because he's Mos Def. That's the same reason many bloggers are plugging The Ecstatic as the best shit since sliced cheese.

The Ecstatic brings us The Mighty Mos on his new record label, Downtown Records, where he shares cubicle space with the likes of Gnarls Barkley, Santigold, and Carla Bruni, the current First Lady of France. This is a far cry from his previous home, Geffen Records, who used to house acts such as Gza/Genius and The Roots but are now stuck with the likes of Common (not a bad thing, unless you are prone to involuntary recall of Universal Mind Control), Snoop Dogg, and The Game. Mos surrounded himself with a small dream team of collaborators who do their best to bring out the best in their gracious host: acclaimed underground producers Madlib and Oh No (Madlib's younger brother) provide a combined six tracks out of sixteen, while Chad Hugo, Talib Kweli, and the late James "J Dilla" Yancey stop by to send best wishes.

So let's see what all the fuss is about.

1. SUPERMAGIC
I didn't care for this rap album intro masquerading as a song.

2. TWILITE SPEEDBALL
The beat sounds absolutely nothing like anything Chad Hugo (from production duo The Neptunes) ever produced for Kenna. (Remember Kenna? Because you probably should.) The song still sounds alright, though, even if Dante's rhymes sound like half-finished thoughts that could benefit from a good editor with a gaggle of red Sharpies. It helps that this comes across as alternate-universe Neptunes, even though you could still dance to this if you tried.

3. AUDITORIUM (FEAT SLICK RICK)
This is actually really fucking good. Madlib's subdued beat focuses more on (a Middle Eastern-esque) melody than the drum beat, and that decision helps you pay close attention to Mos Def (who actually sounds like he put some effort into his lyrics this time around) and Slick Rick, credited on the back cover as The Ruler, comes off as, well, the Ruler he plays on TV. This shit is nice!

4. WAHID
This also wasn't that bad. Thankfully, this Madlib invasion also isn't very long, lest the song's theme get stomped into the ground with the force of your girl's flip flops.

5. PRIORITY
This is also really short, but this time, I wanted to hear more of Dante's impressive spitting over Preservation's instrumental. SO far, The Ecstatic is perfect for listeners with short attention spans, but that may only be because Mos Def was on a deadline and needed to rush back to the set.

6. QUIET DOG BITE HARD
Meh.

7. LIFE IN MARVELOUS TIMES
Mr. Flash's beat manages to sound pretty, well, marvelous, but Dante's rhymes, curiously, come off as lazy. His flow does, anyway: maybe he just wasn't acclimated to the slower pace of the track. I liked his singing at the end, though. For fans of the beat, you get an extra minute of it at the end, so enjoy!

8. THE EMBASSY
The goofy intro doesn't really lend itself to the Middle Eastern-inspired Mr. Flash beat; in fact, it's more distracting than it should be. It takes Dante forever to step in and start rapping, though, so this "song" is really short, which is a plus, since I wasn't impressed at all.

9. NO HAY NADA MAS
Mos Def raps and sings in Spanish, mainly because he fucking can. This doesn't sound the least bit bad, though, and it's fairly brief, so I kind of dig it. I wouldn't necessarily bump this in my car, though.

10. PISTOLA
I liked Oh No's beat, especially the hurried drums that inform much of Dante's flow. Hearing the chorus performed two different ways at the exact same time was unnerving, though, not unlike watching a film by Joel Schumacher and expecting it to be good: if Mos was trying to make this song appeal to an art house crowd, he succeeded, but at what cost?

11. PRETTY DANCER
There aren't many references to Charles Darwin in hip hop today. I liked Madlib's instrumental more than the rhymes (not surprising, since I'm a fan of his...which begs the question: why the fuck have I not written more about Madlib?), but this still comes across as an altogether pleasant and complete package, especially for the final minute and a half.

12. WORKERS COMP.
"You can't break my heart, 'cause that'll just get you fired"? Huh? Dante alternates between rapping and singing pretty seamlessly, and Mr. Flash's beat helps move shit along. The way Dante sings the word "fired" is hilarious, as well.

13. REVELATIONS
Madlib's beat is fucking awesome sauce. Is it too much to ask for an entire Mos Def album with his production exclusively? He did it for Talib Kweli, you know.

14. ROSES (FEAT GEORGIA ANNE MULDROW)
Dante's ad libs are really fucking annoying, as if he's trying to channel the ghost of Jim Jones. As it takes the man almost two full minutes to drop a verse, this comes across as more of a song by Georgia Anne Muldrow featuring Mos Def. (Which it actually is: the back cover of The Ecstatic reads that this song is "by Georgia Anne Muldrow, featuring me".) Her vocals and production aren't bad, though, so this could have been a lot worse.

15. HISTORY (FEAT TALIB KWELI)
How about that, a collaboration between Mos Def and Talib Kweli (produced by the late J Dilla to boot). This is what was missing from The New Danger and True Magic. The vocal sample frustrates my listening experience, but both men sound fucking inspired. So how about another Black Star album, guys? Anyone? Bueller?

16. CASA BEY
The Ecstatic's third single would have sounded better than "Supermagic" as the album's introductory song, but I digress: this is still a pretty good way to end your album, thanks to Preservation's multifaceted work behind the boards (with an assist from our host) and Dante's vocals, which I'm already on record as saying that I like. The piano at the end was also welcome.

THE LAST WORD: Maybe the bloggers are right to champion this one. The Ecstatic is an improvement over True Magic, but thanks to its lack of cohesion (it sounds like a bunch of spare Mos Def songs stitched together), it doesn't top either Black On Both SIdes or The New Danger. (Yes, I said The New Danger.) Mos Def sounds like he's actively trying to get back to the top of his game, though, and he surrounds himself with mostly hot instrumentals, so the overall listening experience was actually pretty fucking great. Other than a couple of tracks ("Revelations" and "Auditorium" especially) that may end up in shuffle rotation on the iPod, I don't know if I'll spin The Ecstatic all that often, but this is still deserving of your time.

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Other Mos Def write-ups can be found here.

17 comments:

  1. I like this album a lot but i need to detract a couple points off the Auditorium. Mos spit the exact same verse on Kweli's Beautiful Mixtape 2 on "What it is".

    solid B effort (grading on a curve - I have high expectations from Dante)

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  2. haha thanks for reviewing this max. i knew you wouldn't be getting the new mos def as soon as possible.

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  3. AnonymousJune 10, 2009

    I just listened to this on iTunes and almost asked for a refund for the snippets. This really was disappointment. From the beats to the rhymes, it feels like he's just gotten worse since Blackstar. I understand 'artists' don't want to go backward, but what's wrong with something for the b-boys? Dag!

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  4. HA HA HA! - I was thinking the same thing about Mos singing he word "fired" on "Workers Comp."

    I'm always up for another Black Star album!

    And now that you mention it, that would be SWEET if Mos did an entire album with Madliberator! Why don't they?!!!??!

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  5. Why the fuck haven't you written more about Madlib?
    Max, if you need a copy of the Beat Konducta series for "review" purposes, I'm your man...

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  6. AnonymousJune 10, 2009

    Good review, my sentiments exactly. I think it's superior to The New Danger & True Magic, had this followed up Black On Both Sides I would have been good. But hey, while there's definite improvement from Mos at least he's going in the right direction. Good shit to bump when you're walking

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  7. AnonymousJune 11, 2009

    every1 will choke their shortcomings once Simplico comes out. Mos Def, talented- confused but lyrically talented.

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  8. Imagine A Black Star Reunion with the production covered completely by Madlib & Oh No?!?!

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  9. i still feel like Mos isnt' giving it his all when he records. Reusing lyrics from a mixtape from 5 years ago? That's some kanye shit right there (no hate).

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  10. AnonymousJune 12, 2009

    only white people listen to mos def. that's probably cause he lame, goofy and wack as fuck

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  11. wassup.... im new to blogspot and im really liking your blog. I started one with the same concept. check it out and give me some feedback. I'm tryna get on your status lol heres the address: exekutivedecisionz.blogspot.com

    thanks,

    kommandernchief

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  12. True Magic was better than this. Tr3u Magic, Undeniable, Crime and Medicine, Murder of a Teenage Life, Fake Bonanza, and even the lulling Perfect Timing made that album better than this.

    Come on. All the songs on Ecstatic sound alike. His rapping is toned down and void of the energy he had on even what's been called his worse album...Slick Rick is out of place here and Oh No's production is like cheap theft of a culture's music. Album bores me to hell, but if you insist on liking it, at least you purchase music.

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  13. Smh @ voodooverse..........damm you're clueless kid.

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  14. Do yourself a favor and listen to yourself: review some Madlib albums. Madlib is my 2nd favorite producer and a pretty creative rapper when he chooses to do so. I don't think you've reviewed any instrumental albums, but his albums under his alias "Quasimoto" are entertaining as hell. You should spread the word about this guy becuase a.) he's relatively unknown to even hip hop heads b.) people would listen to him if you praise him (which you did on this review) and c.)it would be an entertaining read.

    P.S. After listening to The Ecstatic after putting it away in my "crates", I come to admit that I really enjoy this album. Great review.

    -Keeshawn

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  15. Possibly the best hip hop album of 2009 in my opinion, Mos Def back on top of his game. As for Voodooverse saying Slick Rick sounds out of place on Auditiorium, it's the best I've heard Slick Rick for ages and he kills it on that track (which is one of the highlights of the album) This album gets better with every listen.

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  16. Mos Def and Method Man can be seen as parallels to each other. They both are GREAT emcees, but don't have the respective solo careers to help justify their legendary statuses. They both have 4 albums and both debuts: Tical and Black on Both Sides are classics, both sophomore efforts were experimental and not as highly regarded as the debuts, Tical 0: the prequel and Tru3 Magic were both shitstorms, and The Estatic and 4:21... The Day after are both good comeback albums. They both have a successful career in acting, even though both are not great actors. Redman and Talib Kweli are their sidekicks, and both sidekicks have 7 albums (If you include Train of Thought). Now, where's those Talib reviews at Max?

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    Replies
    1. The path to a Talib Kweli solo review is littered with enough false starts to make me reconsider the blog as a whole. I'm not saying it won't happen, but I'm also not saying it will. Unless someone reading this is nice enough to start submitting Reader Reviews...

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