The Underrated: Mos Def- The Ecstatic

By @TrueGodImmortal 

1. Supermagic
2. Twilite Speedball
3. Auditorium
4. Wahid 
5. Priority 
6. Quiet Dog 
7. Life In Marvelous Times
8. The Embassy
9. No Hay Nada Mas
10. Pistola
11. Pretty Dancer 
12. Workers Comp 
13. Revelations
14. Roses 
15. History 
16. Casa Bey

2009 was an odd year for Hip Hop. While the majority of the music leaned towards dancing and partying that year, some great hip hop crept through the cracks. One album in particular is the Mos Def gem "The Ecstatic", which stands as Mos' best project since his solo debut "Black on Both Sides". After his debut, Mos began to show signs of a need for creative growth and he took a sabbatical from music and began to get into acting more. After his 2004 album "The New Danger", which was loved in many aspects, but hated in some others, he gave us what felt like a mixtape with the 2006 project "True Magic", though it featured some gems. With rumors of a Blackstar reunion, Mos appearing in more movies, as well as some collabs with Jay Electronica and a few others, there was the need to make something grand. Mos didn't disappoint with this one.

The album starts off with a Malcolm audio clip, giving it a feel already of consciousness and focus. What follows is what I would consider to be global sounds hip hop, as Mos doesn't hit us with the standard soulful or trap rap, but spits over a rock tinged instrumental to kick off what feels like the intro, "Supermagic". What sounds like an infusion of tribal drums and afrobeat carries "Twilite Speedball", produced by Chad Hugo of The Neptunes, and while Mos imposes a more catchy rhyme style during the first few songs, he drops quite a few gems lyrically. Admittedly, the hunger here doesn't compare to the Blackstar or Black on Both Sides era lyricist Mos, but this is the evolution of Mos and it all seems to work well.

Madlib provides a beautiful backdrop for Mos and Slick Rick to drop some fire rhymes over on "Auditorium", which is one of my favorite Madlib beats. Mos and Madlib made something special and Mos takes off in his opening verse and we see a glimpse of the greatness from the past lyrically:

"Quiet storm vital form, pen pushed it right across
Mind is a vital force, high level right across/
Shoulders the lions raw voice is the siren/
I swing round ring out and bring down the tyrant/
Shocked a small act could knock a giant/ lopsided
The world is so dangerous there's no need for fighting/
Suttins tryna hide like the struggle wont find em/
And the sun bust through the clouds to clearly remind him/"

The track leads into the knocking "Wahid", as Mos blacks out again, backed by a cinematic production once again from Madlib. Heavy on lyrics, minimal on hooks, Mos took it back to the essence and this track was the perfect follow up to the solid "Auditorium". In many ways, some could say Mos was on the path to creating a perfect alternative hip hop album. The production and instrumentation on "Priority" is absolutely flawless, as the horns give it a glorious and triumphant feel. I'm personally not the biggest fan of "Quiet Dog", but the rhythm and funk behind his vocals and overall sound make for an entertaining listen. So far, Mos would take a blend of styles and genres seemingly and infuse it into the hip hop sound with almost no difficulty.

"Life In Marvelous Times" is an intense track with some spacey,  electronic esque production, as Mos kicks some knowledge lyrically over a simplistic flow:

"Ends don't meet/
where the arms can't reach/
Mean streets/
Even when its free it ain't cheap/Ongoing saga, terminal diagnosis/
Basic survival requires super heroics/
No space in the budget for a cake/
It's when you gotta fly by night to save the day/
Crash-landings routinely happen/
Some survive, others never rise from the ashes/
Watching asphalt and observing the Sabbath/
Creates an ecstatic/ 
And there you have it/
From teenage love
Praying in tongue/
Strange fruit, batty boots and native drums/"

What feels like an interlude follows on the Indian sound influenced "The Embassy", as Mos kicks some truly vivid lyrics over the backdrop, and closes out with a smooth soul funk rhythm and harmony before going to a Latin flavored track in "No Hay Nada Mas". Mos does most of the track in Spanish, and while this would annoy the average listener, one has to admire the risk it took to do such a song on an American hip hop album. This is a reminder of the beauty of Mos and his artistry: it won't appeal to everyone because his creativity is in a different stratosphere, and that continued with the jazzy yet boom bap esque "Pistola". This is likely the most "hip hop" feeling track so far, and even this track is not your standard or usual hip hop music. It is produced by the amazing Oh No, and the sound here is very easy on the ears after the different sounds and risk tasking. The beauty of this track here is that Mos seems so at home and comfortable not following the formula, that he makes even the biggest risk musically seem normal.

Madlib returns with another lovely production on "Pretty Dancer", as the simple drum pattern over a nice sample allows Mos to kick his poetic lyricism seamlessly. The hip hop feel of the album seems to stick around, as the soulful boom bap returns with my personal favorite song on the album "Workers Comp", as Mos coasts over the beat flawlessly and his lyrics don't disappoint:

"Work is scarce, competition is fierce/
Fonzi fronting in the new leather like they don't care/
Word? Let's get you an award for that performance/
Winner in the category for the best boring/
Uh, tell the tough guys we tougher than tough times/
and needles in the nerves to make the tighten up unwind/"

The Madlib produced "Revelations" shows Mos directing his lyrics towards the system and to the people asking for growth and more. It somehow flows beautifully to another personal favorite of mine, the Georgia Anne Muldrow led "Roses", and the soulful funk is undeniable. Georgia kills it vocally, and she's one of the more slept on singers out here today. Mos delivers lyrically as well here, with a nice couplet as follows:

"Started off with a oget, natural poget/
I ain't Picasso but that ain't important/
Faith, smart dude/ 
Never graduated high school/
Stay tuned I'm a show you how my art move/
Shape and dimension/ 
Flow and extension/
Symmetry shade/
Blowin out the frame/
Sign off my name Dante when I'm finished/
Put it to your memory for permanent exhibit/
Love, hard work and it's worth every minute/
Abstract is still life, real life kinetic/"

After this track, we get a Blackstar reunion over a beautiful Dilla track, and Kweli seems poised to steal the show with his solid verse:

"Smash when we do a show, it's facts, no mystery/
I'm down with the crew like Mussolini in Italy/
I rock with The Roots like the Given Tree/
Powerful, bigotry I work, me and my people got history/
These rappers dumb it down considerably/
We "Get it Poppin'" like a hit chorus/
The flow is historic/ 
They can't get rid of us/
You pick with us, and we lay the law like Leviticus/
Ten years ago we made history so they missing us/"

However, Mos ends the song with an amazing display of lyrical dexterity, only making the fans appetite for another Blackstar album stronger:

"And don't call it come back in particular/
We've been effort blending to affirmer or/
Fade into peripheral/
Vision of the minister's original/
We're broadcast clear without diminishing/
Black Star so tight, burning soul temperatures/ 
and ministers/
Alkalines, aminos and minerals/
Served over Dilla time signatures/
It's miracle material, remember it's right now foreverness/"

The album closes out with the solid "Casa Bey", which is a smooth listen and a perfect way to close the album. We've yet to hear another album from Mos officially, and if he never releases another, he went out in a great way as The Ecstatic remains his 2nd best album and remains one of my favorite albums of 2009 still. If you've never heard this album, do us a favor and check it out. You won't be disappointed.



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