Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mos Def - Ecstatic

Rating: B-

OK, so I've listened to this album through seven or eight teams, seen Mos Def live, and I don't know what "The Ecstatic" is. The term is sprinkled liberally throughout the album, usually as an interjection, with no context clues. References to "The Ecstatic" (henceforth I will dropping the quotes in referring to it) in the album include:
  • Leadoff track "Supermagic" features the ecstatic, bookended by a Malcolm X plea to "change this miserable condition that exists on this earth" and Mos Def referring to "classic flow" and "super magic black origin freshly out of dopeness."
  • In "Twilight Speedball," a song about drugs, Ecstatic is mentioned in the chorus.
  • "We know, y'all know / Ecstatic, there it is," appears in the chorus to "Auditorium." Thanks, Mos Def: that really helps. Actually, there may be clues in here; the track is about the mindlessness of modern life ("They going through the motion, they dimming down the focus") and the power of hip-hop to transcend ("I feel it in my bones, black, I'm so wide awake"). Slick Rick reinforces this theme, telling a story of a soldier in Iraq met with hostility by the locals until he lays down some smooth flow.
  • "Life in Marvelous Times" features the couplet "watching asphalt and observing the Sabbath / creates an Ecstatic and there you have it." So there's that.
  • In closer "Casa Bey," Mos Def himself is described as "M-Def the black, fantastic raw / Dynamic, true Ecstatic, ghetto outstanding."

The theme seems to be this: life is messed up, life has always been messed up, but there is a magic to life as well. This magic inspires Mos Def, and seems to inspire all great hip-hop.

No song conveys the fullness of this better than "Life In Marvelous Times." Mos Def relays the squalor of his childhood abode ("This is Bed-Stuy 82' / Ninth floor, three tiny rooms, one view"). And it seems things haven't changed: "Crash-landings routinely happen / some survive, others never rise from the ashes." Yet, despite it all, "this raw cold life is a beautiful thing." Finally, fatalistically, "we can't be alive in no time but now." The Ecstatic, it seems, is a force of transcendent joy and hope in a world gone wrong.

So how's the album? Oh yeah, it's good. Mos Def gets a lot of credit for being literate and talented - and it's deserved. But that praise ignores the confidence and relentlessness of his flow. He launches into "Priority" with short, fierce lines that have you invested before the track has barely begun: "Peace before everything / God before anything / Love before anything / Real before everything" - lyrics, that, in lesser hands, might come off as sissy or trite. There's a very real toughness to Mos Def, something that is easy to forget when he's off doing Michel Gondry film. The beats, particularly the sizzling guitar line in opener "Supermagic" provide a diverse, interesting style for Mos Def to spit over.

The album's not flawless - you have to admire the chutzpah to sing / rap in Spanish, but I'm probably going to skip "No Hay Nada Mas" the next five times it comes up on shuffle. "Roses" is a little sleepy. And "Workman's Comp" - what's going on with the accent there? Still, this is a solid album - very listenable, and with some meat as well. May The Ecstatic be with you.

Buy it from Amazon (MP3 Format)
Mos Def Site

No comments: