The New Danger
os Def was supposed to be the one. He was a double threat: a grand liaison between the subterranean sound and overground opulence of the late 90s. In position and style, he was the face of converse: conscious neo-African fist raised, smooth flow lowered to undulating gutter water. His landmark 1998 debut Black On Both Sides proved that he was an intelligent thug on a Native Tongue frequency. But extraneous lifestyle choices will catch up with anyone, even a super emcee. After garnering an Emmy nomination and ironically fucking white actresses (hypothetically speaking), Mos is leaving music last with The New Danger.
You can expect any artist to fall after a near-classic record and a six-year hiatus, but this is kicking a rock down the Grand Canyon. And while unlikely survival is a ghetto child's existentialist mantra, Mos has certainly forgotten his beautiful struggle—as well as his ability to craft songs. When (and I mean, when) he raps, he's barely conscious. No, not the same endearing mumble that killed "Mathematics", but the sound of a man forced to make an album for his label within a certain time span. "The Boogie Man" (his new, vaguely pedophilic, self-appointed nickname) tries really, really hard at another "Umi Says" with both "The Panties" and uber-pretentious "Modern Marvel" and fails in a variety of ways, from pointless lyrics to bored cadences. Finally, Mos Def lumps in outtakes from his unreleased album with hobbyist rock band Black Jack Johnson without considering the album's sequencing. If albums are about creating a circular flow melding beginning to end, Mos's cipher never connects.
With a lack of powerful lyricism, his flaws also become more apparent. As evidenced in "Life Is Real", Mos has certainly studied at the Beanie Sigel Institute For Repeating Lines And Concepts. He awkwardly stresses the last syllable on variations of the title ("My whole life is ILL / Filled with magic, strife and SKILL"), references Organized Konfusion ("crush, kill, destroy, sex") and, well, talks about himself ("I do it the most / I do it to death"). In a genre built on deserved braggadocio, Mos's claims ("the haters can't fuck with it / Cause they mom and they sister and girl in love with it") now fall hollow in the face of his sudden apathy. To quote the man he lampoons on the unfortunately titled "The Rape Over" (yes, it uses the same beat): we don't believe you, you need more people.
The production has some bright spots, but ultimately breaks no new ground. Most tracks fall victim to played beats ("Grown Man Business" loops the same Barry White break that Ghostface killed on "The Watch" three years ago and "Close Edge" collars a signature Ice-T bongo loop) as well as played concepts ("Black Jack" uses the generic, storefront blues riff you'd expect from a barbeque sauce commercial). The best beats here are the most inventive, as well as the most sparse: "Ghetto Rock" is a dissonant jungle stomp, with high-pass synth funneling out of cavernous bass, megalomaniacal Kanye West's "Sunshine" has a vibrant sample chop and surprisingly capable kick-snare interaction and the unlikely single "Sex, Love And Money" has funeral horns kneeling at temple drums and well-placed flute.
Unfortunately, this is an album dominated by half-ideas and tentative arrangements. Mos opens a few songs with the acknowledgment "hello children". Taken in any context, the listener feels like Mos is talking to us instead of speaking with us. We shouldn't fault Mos for his lack of Toastmasters training, but we can question his stilted lyrics ("Quasi-homosexuals is running this rap shit!"), contrived rap-rock and uninspired, meandering, true school hat dipping. Instead of making the forward album he thinks he has, he's really just handed in a retread of his first album without the integrity or ability. Taking his stake as a Rawkus survivor lightly, it appears that, as in most parables about losing touch with goals, the mighty (Mos) has fallen.
Reviewed by: Rollie Pemberton
Reviewed on: 2004-10-15