Review: Mos Def

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Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

Just as he has three times before, Mos Def begins The Ecstatic, his fourth solo effort, with the words Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem, a dedication to God. No doubt this devout Muslim feels a higher calling, as evinced by his breakneck work ethic as a musician and an actor. Here, Def lives up to such lofty devotions—the second thing we hear is the voice of Malcolm X—by crafting the hip-hop record of the year, and his best since 1999's Black on Both Sides.

After the rock & roll riffs of the first track, "Supermagic," fade, the album's direction is initially unclear. Are we in for more of the uneven genre experiments of 2004's The New Danger or 2006's True Magic? But by the time Slick Rick smooths out the third track, "Auditorium," it's plain to see: The Ecstatic is a major hip-hop groundswell, full of choice samples and cultural sound bites, heady lyrics, shrewd guest spots and classic production.

Producers Madlib, the late J Dilla and others provide super-inventive beats, the simple power of which is a throwback: As Def puts it, "There's more of less than ever before." On "Auditorium," Madlib works his own "Movie Finale" into an ominous, Eastern-sounding cut that rivals RZA's best work. That track—along with the child's-play piano on "Priority" and the spare rhythms of "Quiet Dog Bite Hard"—proves that less can be more. Mos Def offsets those outings with more layered work, like the Kanye/Lil Wayne--styled "Life in Marvelous Times." Is it all, as the rapper claims, "pure inspiration for this generation"? Most definitely.

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