It’s no secret that Mos Def‘s last couple albums haven’t been very well received, by critics and fans alike. 2004’s The New Danger was largely a misguided experimental foray into fairly baffling rap-rock territory, while 2006’s True Magic felt like a phoned-in contract-filler for his last required album on Geffen Records. But this year, Mos Def has returned to form with the release of The Ecstatic on Downtown Records, easily his best since his incredible debut Black on Both Sides.
A tempered blend of his more experimental tendencies and a decidedly back-to-basics approach, Mos Def employs a range of excellent production, including a number of gems from the Stones Throw Records camp. And he flips it quite nicely here; the sung passages no longer feel indulgent or overstay their welcome, instead operating as tasteful, off-kilter accents. But, more importantly, Def’s flow is back in full force, so agile and sharp that you might forget that he ever slipped. From the Arabic psych explosion of opener “Supermagic”, to the percussive swagger of “Quiet Dog” to the Love Below-esque R&B-fusion of “Roses” and a welcome Black Star reunion on “History”, The Ecstatic is consistently on point.
“Auditorium” is perhaps my favorite track on the record. Mos Def comes out swinging over some dramatic shit — strings, synth, glimpses of woodwinds, and rattling percussion — and sounds hungry for the duration of the track. And then Slick Rick (the man, the legend) stops in to drop a scorcher of a verse, one of the best on the whole album. It doesn’t really get much better than that… it’s good to have you back, Mos Def.
Download: Mos Def – Auditorium (Feat. Slick Rick)