Mos Def's new album "The Ecstatic" is a creeper. It requires some investment, which runs counter to the instant-gratification ethos of today's hip-hop. The straight-ahead boom-bap kids are happy with it, and he takes enough risks to please those who wondered why some were so displeased with his last two records. He also takes risks in his shows, which can make them polarizing affairs. But if recent performances of "Casa Bey" and "Quiet Dog" are any indication, seeing him rock his new material live at the 9:30 club tonight should be a priority.
-- Rhome Anderson (Aug. 2009)
When the world first heard Mos Def's 2006 album, "True Magic," an offering executed with such apathy that copies were sold without liner notes or cover art, there was plenty of reason to worry that America's favorite rapper-actor had lost interest in his career as the former.
Those fears can be put to rest thanks to "The Ecstatic." Mos Def's latest album should remind fans of the Brooklyn native what made them fall in love with him.
His 1999 breakthrough, "Black on Both Sides," demonstrated his bona fides in social commentary. Fortunately, "Ecstatic" offers a pleasing mix of both ear and mind candy.
Thematically, the album's touchstone is hope and the African American community's struggle to find it. Take "Auditorium": "You feel it in the streets, people breathe without hope/They goin' through the motion, they dimmin down they focus," Mos Def intones over a Madlib beat. "The focus gettin' clear and the light turn sharp/And the eyes go teary, the mind grow weary."
Joining Madlib on the production side of the album are the Neptunes, Oh No, the late J. Dilla and Mr. Flash, who produced the album's climactic centerpiece, "Life in Marvelous Times," which finds a measure of solace amid the record's bleak pastiche of drug addictions, pandemic flu and violence.
"Wherever you ride, whatever your name,/This raw cold life is a beautiful thing," Mos Def declares. "It's scary like hell, but there's no doubt:/We can't be alive in no time but now."
-- Alex Baldinger, Weekend (Aug. 2009)