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Album review: Mos Def - 'The Ecstatic'

Hip-hop nearly man comes good

Album review: Mos Def - 'The Ecstatic'

7 / 10 In the ’80s, the snooker player Steve Davis achieved near-total domination of his sport, while adopting a public persona of complete dreariness, to the extent that he was given the hugely ironic nickname ‘Interesting’ by the press. In essence, Mos Def is hip-hop’s reverse Steve ‘Interesting’ Davis – for sure a fascinating character and multi-faceted performer, every inch a one-off, but not with a whole fat lot of really great records under his belt.

His best stuff – his profitable Black Star collaborations with Talib Kweli, his blistering verse on The High And Mighty’s ‘B-Boy Document ’99’ – tends to be done in tandem with other people reining in his eccentricities. You could argue that he was the first of what we’re now calling “hipsters”, but that’s an accusation, not the proffering of a badge of honour.

So it’s a surprise and a pleasure to report that much of ‘The Ecstatic’ is – whisper it – simply good, honest hardcore hip-hop given a twist by MD’s slurred, inebriated delivery and use of odd imagery. In fact, there’s only a couple of weak links – the Neptunes-ish opener ‘Supermagic’ and the grievously disappointing hook-up with Kweli, ‘History’, which proves that the whole helium-voiced vocal sample trend needs to be taken out the back and shot.

These are more than tempered by the likes of the Chad Hugo-produced ‘Twilite Speedball’, with its cop-show-theme-tune horns and stream-of-consciousness lyrics, the delightfully sweet Philly-style soul of ‘Workers Comp’, the lush, eddying strings of ‘Auditorium’ and the monolithic ‘Life In Marvellous Times’, which certainly wouldn’t be out of place on a Lil Jon LP. It would be fair to say that, at long last, he’s gone all Ronnie O’Sullivan on us.

Pete Cashmore

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