You can’t question the fact that Mos Def is one of the most talented emcees in the game. You can, however, question his commitment to Hip-Hop over the last five years. The lucrative opportunities offered to Mos on big and small screen have been too much for him to pass up. But you can’t take without giving something up, and what has suffered has been Mos’ musical career. 2006’s True Magic was panned for its lack of cohesion and consistency, the work of a man with too much on his plate.
The same criticisms can be raised on The Ecstatic, an, uneven unpolished offering from the aspiring Renaissance man. Employing his experiences from sojourning various poverty-stricken nations gives the music a contemporary influence, yet the biggest problem with The Ecstatic is its disjointed nature—there’s no consistent flow from song to song or overarching theme within the project. Strong songs such as the bombastic Brooklyn ballad “Life in Marvelous Times,” and the exotic “The Embassy,” sandwich a misplaced interlude that saps their strength. Songs lack structure, often making it impossible to distinguish hooks from verses. Too many tracks, such as “Wahid,” and the questionable, “No Hay Nada Mas,” end abruptly and seem more like throwaways than worthy album cuts.
All in all, The Ecstatic is just Mos being Mos, doing whatever he pleases artistically with little thought to convention. And, like Manny Ramirez, Mos’ talent can carry him pretty damn far. The Madlib produced “Auditorium” captivates the ears, although Slick Rick’s parable of his adventures in Baghdad is the verse worth remembering. The upbeat “Quiet Dog Bites Hard,” provides the perfect canvas for Mos to showcase his spitting abilities and try and restart the Rawkus Revolution: “The cool dude swagger look cherry corny/they flow so petty unsteady its boring/These dudes ain’t doper/they yawnin’/they need to get off it.” It sounds so good it doesn’t have to make sense.
With a few more classic cuts, no one would give a damn about song structure or transitions, but a lack of truly standout moments magnifies these flaws. The burden here falls on Mos, while his flows are consistently on point, there are moments of lyrical weakness. He relies too often on a stream-of-consciousness style on tracks like “Twilite Speedball,” and “Revelations,” where a closer listen reveals his lyrical abstraction drifts dangerously close to gibberish. It’s telling how much more focused his lyrics are when Talib Kweli joins him on “History.” At this point in his career, he does his best work when he has the presence of another talented MC to rein him in (or, more cynically, make him care enough to give his best effort.)
With some dedication and a few extra hours in the studio, there’s no question Mos Def can make a great, or even classic album. But The Ecstatic is neither, no matter how many Mosiphiles are drinking the Kool-Aid®. Hardcore fans will be satisfied, but casual listeners will have to wait for him to give up on Hollywood or dig in the crates for Black Star to hear the absolute best of Mos Def.