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Album review: Mos Def's 'The Ecstatic'

June 9, 2009 |  3:46 pm

Mosdef In 2006, MC-cum-actor Mos Def released the titularly misleading "True Magic," an uninspired last gasp with Geffen Records that would've been more accurately dubbed "Contractual Obligation." But "The Ecstatic," his fourth solo album, mostly lives up to its giddy name with Bollywood-style samples and off-kilter production from Stones Throw stars Madlib and his brother Oh No, and the late J Dilla.

It also showcases Mos Def's most engaged lyrical flow in years -- positive in spirit and some of it looking back, as he does on "History" with his former Black Star compatriot Talib Kweli. Set to a crooked Dilla beat that reshuffles itself more cleverly than the average loop, "History" concludes with one of Mos Def's cerebral rhyme-strands and then segues into "Casa Bey," which pits chugging samba funk against optimistic, misty-eyed piano traces.

At its start, "The Ecstatic" is more aggressive and a little spooky. The atmospheric "Auditorium" is built from a track off of Madlib's "Beat Konducta in India" series and features a captivating guest appearance from Slick Rick in which he imagines himself as a soldier in Iraq. "Quiet Dog Bite Hard" is a stark but shimmying rumbler made for Brooklyn mean streets.

"The Ecstatic" flags in spots and the album's tricky samples take a while to absorb. But the 16-song collection offers proof that Mos Def can still be invigorated from a tight beat as much as a tightly written script.

-- Margaret Wappler

Mos Def
"The Ecstatic"
(Downtown Records)
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