Mos Def has gone through one of the strangest transitions in Hip-Hop history. As a member of Black Star (with Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek), Mos Def began to make a name for himself with his thoughtful rhymes and unique voice. By the time his solo debut, Black on Both Sides, dropped, Mos Def had crafted a seminal classic littered with unique subject matter and solid production. Then things went a little haywire. Mos became an actor and it seemed as if his music began to take a back seat to the big screen. He tossed around the idea of a rock band called Black Jack Johnson, which ultimately resulted in the mess of an album called The New Danger. Although it showed flashes of brilliance from Mos, the album lacked focus and was splattered with sing songy choruses and lazy production. Now, out of the blue (literally), comes True Magic.
Mysteriously, True Magic was released on a Friday with no video, no hype, no album artwork, nothing. As strange as it is, we have to wonder why this happened. Regardless, for most, A Mos Def album is a Mos Def album, and some are just happy to see one. But will this album be another unfocused mess or will Mos Def be back to being Mighty Mos Def again? Unfortunately with True Magic, it’s the former. Once again, we have an album almost as unfocused as A New Danger; just songs strewn together and called an album. It absolutely lacks any direction whatsoever. Yet, at times Mos showcases what makes him better at 20% than many emcees at 110%.
Undeniable joints like the moody “U R The One” bleed from Mos Def’s heart. With a groovy sample careening in and out of Mos’ schizophrenic lyrics about loving someone so much you hate them, this joint is nothing but vintage Mos Def. Elsewhere, “Napoleon Dynamite” pulsates from hip hop’s pores, with Mos Def rhyming his ass off and a beat that works just fine. Mos works even harder lyrically on “Fake Bonanza”, as he speaks on society ills from his own unabashed viewpoints.
But as it was said before, True Magic is just a mess when it comes to direction. Right when you get in the mode with “U R the One”, you get smashed over the head with “Crime Medicine”, where GZA’s “Liquid Swords” is lifted in its entirety and laced with Mos Def’s singing psychobabble. “Katrina Clap” also resurfaces in all its “Nolia Clap” jacking glory, and is renamed “Dollar Day” which just seems flat out lazy.
Mos even gets a little New Danger-ish with joints like the country ass “Sun, Moon, Stars” – and while it’s a good attempt at diversification - it just doesn’t work for Mos Def. Other songs may have a decent production, but just what the hell Mos Def is doing may be confusing. “Perfect Timing” is just Mos rambling on, while the inspirational vibe of “There Is A Way” makes you feel cheated with only two lyrics chanted within three and a half minutes.
It seems like Mos Def lives in Mos Def World. Where everything he does is dope…to him. But frankly, that’s all he really cares about these days. And he still can do off center Mos Def shit better than most of these half assed rappers trying to spit rhymes, but many of us wish that he would get focused again. But until then we just have to deal with whatever he puts out.
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