Okay, so this is gonna hurt me to write…
…why? Because the realm of underground hip-hop is a fragile construction built of the opinions of emotionally damaged hip-hop fans. It’s a galactic ball of yarn with each twisted strand representing the moment in some young person’s life when whatever was being packaged as “mainstream” hip-hop stopped satisfying their thirst for music. It’s an ugly place where people like me struggle against the laws of physics to keep hip-hop tethered to 1995 (Granted, it’s a different year for each of us, but dammit I say’95!).
..While we may quibble over which years encapsulate the “golden ageÃƒÂ¢”, we often agree wholeheartedly on a few basic tenets. One of them being:
Mos Def is dope.
…You see there was a time not too long ago, somewhere between Ready to Die and Life After Death, when those of us who had grown up listening to Native Tongues, Nice and Smooth, and Brand Nubian could see things starting to change. Many of our favorite artists released albums during that time that acknowledged and spoke against the philosophical turning that was occurring in our music, i.e. Tribe’s Beats, Rhymes and Life, Aceyalone’s All Balls Don’t Bounce, and the seminal release from De La Soul Stakes is High. We could all sense however that our tastes were being marginalized. People started noticing that we were the only ones still breakdancing and wearing back packs. One of the hopes that helped us through these dark times was a slew of younger artists that were appearing on these albums. MC’s that we knew would lead us into hip-hop’s next generation with at least a subtle reminder of what once was. Enter, Mos Def on the aforementioned Stakes is High release. With an all too familiar nasal flow and calm delivery, he spit effortlessly alongside future-hall-of-famers Pos and Trugoy…
He followed this stellar debut with a couple of classic 12″s released on Rawkus Records. Including “The Universal Magnetic B-Boy” b/w “If you can Hunh”…These singles and the contiued endorsements of our heroes helped solidify his place in our jaded hearts (…we had officially soured at this point…) As a member of the pantheon. Elevated alongside the likes of Jay Dee, Juice, Thirston Howl III, and Wordsworth.
His Debut LP, Black on Both Sides, also released on Rawkus gave us more of what we hungered for: Ill beats provided by Ali Shaheed Muhammed, DJ Premier, and the Beatnuts, and rhymes that were both technically sound and educational. Mos Def is like the Chris Benoit of the Underground collective. Now imagine if the “Rabid Wolverine” started wearing baggy overalls and a top hat and skipping to the ring holding hands with Scotty 2 Hotty.
Feel My Pain.
I’ll admit. I haven’t listened to this album as much as I would have liked to before sentencing it. But I can’t. It’s just TOO boring. He sings on more than half of the record. And I don’t mean sharing a soft duet with Vinia Mojica or humming a hook or two. The man SINGS like Gregory f’n Isaacs on half of the album. It wouldn’t be so bad if the songs that he sang were even somewhat distinguishable. No. Half of the album sounds like one long ass bad song. And if that’s not enough, another quarter of the album features a rock band. This in itself ain’t so bad…You’re talking the world’s biggest colored They Might Be Giants fan. But the band doesn’t play melodic chord arrangements or intricate rhythms, they instead opt to play loud garage band chords while Mos alternates rhyming and screaming bloody murder. No thanks, Mos. If I wanted rip-rock or hop-rock or slap-cock or whatever, I would have turned on MTV…three years ago.
There’s one spectacular song. It’s called the The Rape Over. He takes the instrumental form Jay-Z’s diss to Nas and Mobb Deep and reworks it to expose the crooks and politics that control the music industry:
“AOL/Time Warner is runnin’?? this rap sh*t/ Hennessy and E-pills are runnin’ this rap sh*t”
For an album that was recorded with a live band, I think it’s a damned shame that the best song uses a recycled instrumental. But this album showed me beyond a shadow of a doubt that Dante “Mos Def” Beze, doesn’t give a good god damn what I like.
If this weren’t my first review, I’d retire…