Mos Def, along with Talib Kweli and Rawkus, were meant to save hip-hop about ten years ago from the commercial elements that were ruining it. Fuck bling and hype Williams videos – Mos was keeping it real, taking hip hop back to its roots, and infusing it with artistry and talent.
He released a Black Star album with Talib that critics drooled over, but i was underwhelmed by, then his 199 solo debut, Black on Both Sides, which is pretty damn righteous. He came back a few years later with the rock-infused “A New Danger”, which unveiled his boogie man character and bad rap-rock loving Jack Johnson character. The albums moments of glory were buried under a lot of uneven bullshit, and found the man who was supposed to be saving hip-hop playing part of its worst elements in “The Rape Over”, which was a shitty remake of a Jay-Z track that didn’t hold a candle to the original, and blamed “faggots” for ruining the rap game.
Ten years after he first made a splash, he puts out “True Magic”, which on the surface seems like one of the more half-assed albums in recent memory, from its lack of cover to its mumbled lyrics and lazy rhymes, to it’s multiple (uncredited) remakes. I’m pretty sure that Mos was having beef with his label, so the record may have been his way of inviting them to have sex with themselves.
Here’s the shit of it, though – as half-assed as this record is, it’s still better than most of the other records that have been released this year. Mos manages to perfectly blend soul, r&b and hip hop, something not a lot of other rappers do. The disc also has a nice warm sound to it, in contrast to the icy, synthed out, uber-produced hip-hop that has become common.
My favorite track is “Undeniable”, which has an irresistible old soul sample over which Mos boasts. He doesn’t drop any genius lines, but he doesn’t embarrass the listener either, so it works out. “Sun, Moon, Stars” and “Fake Bonanza” also use old soul samples, and are both damn decent.
As I mentioned, there are two remakes on this album, “Crime and Medicine’s” reworking of an old GZA track, and “Katrina Clap”, which reimagines Juvenile’s “Nolia Clap” as a post-Katrina protest song. Mos Def delvers his lines with a laid-back flow, in stark contrast to the anger seething in the lyrics.
“You better off on crack
Dead or in jail, or with a gun in Iraq
And they got -illions and killions to waste on the war
And make you question what the taxes is for
Or the cost to reinforce the broke levee wall
Tell the boss, he shouldn't be the boss anymore”.
His subdued delivery makes it even more powerful when he finally erupts towards the end of the track, growling “Quit being cheap nigga freedom ain’t free!”
True Magic is not the brilliant album that Mos Def could make and should make, but it is not horrible either. I’m hoping with a new label he’ll put out a new, more thought-out and fully realized disc, but this will do for now.
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