Mos Def’s record as a progressive hip-hop leader and
ultra-talented emcee absolutely can’t be questioned —
his collaborations with Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek cemented that
years ago. His first solo disc, Black on Both Sides, married
his inimitable charm with dirty, underground beat-making and
contributed to Mos’s quest to be The Most Enviable MC on the
Planet: talented, credible, handsome, creative and dangerously
Too much, however, has happened since the release
ofBlack. In fact, his new album The New Danger
carries so much weight on its beautifully packaged shoulders
that it’s difficult to rip the jewel case open. Danger
asks fans to forget so much. Like, for example, the made-for-MTV
movie starring Mos opposite a member of Destiny’s Child. Like
the fact that Kweli, the emcee to which Mos will always be
compared, has released two albums since Black. Like the game
that hasn’t changed so much in the past five years: Musical
production, a mixing of mainstream and underground scenes and the
emergence of the commercial rap single as a viable form of artistic
expression. Five years have passed, and the growing, fertile
underground hip-hop community hasn’t heard a damn thing from
one of its charter members.
It’s clear from the very beginning that Mos is no longer
interested in being just a rapper. His on-again, off-again band,
Black Jack Johnson, permeates much of the production on the album.
The jazzy, sparse beats Mos usually flows over are often replaced
by jarring electric guitars, reggae and blues melodies and rock
band rhythms. “Freaky Black” is the most egregious
offender. A terrible metal riff runs over live drums as Mos rants
incoherently over the top, shouting out the name of his band 60
“Boogie Man Song” is a different kind of evil:
Unfocused, lackadaisical production does nothing to salvage a
transparently soulful Mos chanting “I am / The most beautiful
boogie man.” While everyone else is dealing with a war, an
election, rising costs of living and a serious lack of great
underground rap, Mos seems to be too focused on becoming
hip-hop’s Anthony Keidis.
On the rare occasions when Mos’s newfound rock experiment
works, fans are reminded why he remains important, even amid the
unfortunate unfolding of The New Danger. “Ghetto
Rock” is hazy and unfocused, yet Mos still turns amazing
braggadocio over a skanking guitar riff. “Sunshine” is
the requisite soul sample and the comfy home to his most
straight-forward — and best — verse. “Sex, Love
& Money” is probably the closest Mos comes to the
forward-thinking mix of experimentalism and soul-hop that
it’s so easy to envision him dreaming up.
Mos is still one of the most interesting, talented rappers on
the planet, but his record receives its first blemish here. The
New Danger is a half-baked, over-thought disappointment.
There’s enough sonic collage work here to draw in the
underground crowd, and die-hard fans will probably not be scared
off, but there’s little here to recommend Mos to the growing
progressive hip-hop audience.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars.