Black gold mined from all over the world
There’s a lot to say about Mos Def’s The Ecstatic. It’s his best in years, if not ever. Everyone was disappointed (with due cause) in his last few releases, all of which made fans go ‘What the.. ?’ He was busy working on movies and other non-rap things, but where was his next Black Star or Black on Both Sides? Clearly he was fulfilling some contractual obligations but did we have to wait until Geffen let him go? Seems like it, and it was totally worth the wait.
Ecstatic is a statement: “I’m back, I never left, y’all ain’t shit and now I’m gonna show you how it’s done.” In so many words that I just put in his mouth. First off, this album is not a singles record. There are a few standouts that translate beautifully to keep a party poppin’ or dancefloor moving, namely “Twilite Speedball” and “Quiet Dog Bite Hard.” But everything flows so seamlessly; the interludes and found sounds are ingenious. From the Bollywood-influenced opener “Supermagic,” which features a ’64 Malcolm X quote, to the cockpit-gun-toting-Captain intro to “The Embassy,” it’s with these that Ecstatic garners its well-deserved political descriptors. Mos has always had a curious fascination with injustice and Afrocentricism but it doesn’t always come off as nuanced and classy as it does here.
In fact, with the strongest track on the record, “Auditorium,” which tumbles into its hypnotic head-bobbing beat with a far east intro before Slick Rick delivers a syrupy smooth Iraq-oriented story, Mos delivers his most worldly message. Rick raps to a “young Iraqi kid”: “What’s wrong, G, hungry? / No, give me my oil and get the f#$* out my country!” Other collaborations shine on this record, too. “History,” with Talib Kweli is a standout and harkens back to his earlier days of late ’90s brainy hip hop. “Roses” features a lesser known Georgia Anne Muldrow from Stones Throw Records who kills a bluesy, heartfelt R&B vocal over tickly piano flourishes. Her Angie Stone-inspired soul brings Mos to a softer place where his voice begins to sound better than John Legend’s.
We may not see Mos like this again. His latest and possibly greatest is a momentous hip hop occasion. There are still hip hop artists making smart, nuanced, beat-smart records. We don’t have to pretend to get excited about new Lil’ Wayne records or scream about Jay-Z’s newest blueprint. Hopefully, Mos Def and his friends will keep turning out gems like this one.