It’s been a hell of a long time since Mos Def released ‘Black On Both Sides’, nearly a decade to be precise and not a time during that decade did I lose faith with Dante Terrell Smith. Through his forays into acting, 2004′s ‘The New Danger’ and 2006′s disappointing ‘True Magic’ album I always reserved a feeling that when Mos was ready he would unleash an album worthy of mentioning in the same breath as ‘Black On Both Sides’ and capable elevating him back to his place as one of the best to ever put rhymes on record. It was one of those happy days when I heard this record for the first time, a feeling only comparable to birthdays and Christmas during childhood. When I pressed play on the opening track ‘Supermagic’ for the first time I was almost suffocated in an air of anticipation and excitement similar to that felt by charlie each time he opened a Wonka bar expecting to find a golden ticket. I got my golden ticket that day, my invitation to the chocolate factory, it was my birthday, Christmas, Eid and Hanukkah rolled into sixteen tracks of loveliness.
There’s a distinct eastern theme to several of the tracks, ‘Supermagic’, produced by Madlib’s brother Oh No samples Turkish Psych artist Selda Bagcan. My highlight of the album is “The Ruler” Slick Rick’s verse on ‘Auditorium’. The beat is Madlib’s ‘Movie Finale’ from his ‘Beat Konducta In India’ album and Slick Rick’s nonchalant delivery caresses the track with quirky style and humour. “Sit and come relaxed, riddle of the mack, it’s the patch, I’m a soldier in the middle of Iraq/ well say about noon’ish comin’ out the whip, looking at me curious a young Iraqi kid/ Carrying laundry, what’s wrong G – hungry?/ ‘No, gimmie my oil and get the fuck out of my country’, and in arabian barking other stuff ’til his moms come grab him and they walk off in a rush.” ‘Wahid’ continues the eastern theme, again Madlib is on production.
The array of producers and various styles of production is vast. One interesting contributor is Mr.Flash from the Paris based Ed Banger record label. He takes charge of three tracks on the album and comes with arguably the best beat of a really good bunch on ‘Life In Marvelous Times’ which is a dark marauding electro banger with slicing synths and piping horns that give it a distinctly 80′s throwback feel. ‘Life In Marvellous Times’ is set to be the first single released from the album. Mr.Flash’s second cut on the album is Embassy which begins with a neo-soul esque bassline leading into an eastern themed track. Mos impressively lays down the whole of ‘No Hay Nada Mas’ in Spanish. It’s clearly evident that he’s enjoying his craft again, his effortless flow is as substantial and hard hitting as it was ten years ago, the beats are gritty, eclectic backdrops to his masterful lyrical content and delivery.
The inclusion of Black Star co-pilot Talib Kweli is a defining moment of this album. Two of the most accomplished avant-garde emcees in the history of hip-hop music. Always innovators only occasionally their focus may have wavered slightly in particular Kweli who has made a couple of attempts to break the mainstream by somewhat diluting his industry demolishing cut-throat rhymes. The pair are back doing what they do best on ‘History’ the beat is a lovely sampled cut from the late great J Dilla with the classic Dilla crunching snare. Kweli crows “Me and my people got history, other rappers dumb it down considerably.”
This is an album that emerges like a phoenix from the flames of an arguably dieing genre of music, a record that matches heritage, freshness and eclecticism to remind people just how good hip hop can be. In the quagmire of auto-tune, copycat acts, candy painted Cadillacs and talentless soldier boys a shining beacon of hope has emerged.