Most likely, the biggest blessing and the biggest curse a new artist can have is for their album to be heralded as a classic. Sure, it's nice for critics and the masses alike to hold your album in high esteem and for it to gain immense admiration and be one of the talks of the music industry for years down the line. But then there's the dreaded follow-up record. There's a seemingly insurmountable amount of pressure placed upon the artist to deliver a subsequent album that equals or betters their debut in terms of quality. The follow-up record will inevitably make or break their career. If their successful, they can virtually rest assured that they'll have a long and prosperous career. If they fail, they pretty much get their walking papers and have to settle for being a footnote on the pages of music history as “one of the ones that did” or “who was” or “had the chance to”, etc. Fortunately, that memo about the pressure never made it to Mos Def's desk.
Mos first gained exposure as ½ of seminal hip-hop duo Black Star He, along with fellow underrated emcee Talib Kweli, created a strong buzz within the hip-hop community and music industry at large. And considering the lyrical deftness of the two, it was only a matter of time before solo projects emerged. In 1999, Mos emerged with Black On Both Sides. And it happened. The critics and the streets slapped the album with the “modern-day classic” seal of approval. And there it was, the pressure. Just looming over Mos' head. So what did this self-respecting emcee do? Thankfully, he didn't rush back into the studio and crank out an album of crap like so many once self-respecting artists did as a result of the pressure. Instead, he opted for a more artistic approach. He applied his talents to a much larger canvas and stepped into the realm of acting. And thanks to his role selections and acting range, not only did he make the successful transition from rapper to actor, he became one of the more respected ones to do so. He still kept his musical feet wet by doing sparse guest appearances and formed a rock band dubbed Black Jack Johnson. But finally, after a 5-year wait, Mos serves up The New Danger. So is it another modern-day classic, worthy enough to follow in its predecessor's footsteps? Well, it depends on whether or not it would've been better for Mos to give the people what he wanted them to hear instead of what they wanted to hear.
From the opening seconds of The Boogie Man Song, you instantly know this isn't your average hip-hop album, even for Mos Def. Starting off with some lo-fi percussion and meshing with sparse twinkling keys and a sparse bass line, Mos surprises and impresses this listener with his adroit vocal skills. He's not an amazing vocalist but he definitely has underrated vocal competence and exhibits it well on this brief intro. Here, Mos begs whoever's listening to “let me be your favorite nightmare.” A bizarre request but a fitting one. The explanation will soon come. $1.29.
Right away, with Freaky Black Greetings, Mos shows he's not sticking to any one musical format. Backed by BBJ, Mos goes for a heavy, hard-rock sound, with pounding drums and guitars, but including a warbling wah-wah peddle into the mix to maintain a small hip-hop edge. All of which is backing up Mos' various shout-out ad-libs. But considering there's no lyrical scheme, it all sounds like a bunch of convulsing noise. Props for the brazen production though. $.n/a.
Mos gets it right and blends the best of both his musical worlds on the hip-rock 2nd single, Ghetto Rock. Starting off with an excellent electric guitar riff, it slowly fades into percussive handclaps and a stunted bass line, along with booming percussion, which creates a decidedly gritty yet minimalist, 60's feel, which works well to support Mos' street poetry about ghetto life. A solid piece on this album that brilliantly attests to Mos' versatility. $2.90.
The rebirth of FBR can be found on the thrashing Zimzallabim. Starting off with Metallica-esque pounding drums and guitars, it mellows out into a tricked-out hip-hop freestyle, with rock edges, that gives Mos a chance to rip the mic with his socio-political rhymes that touch on how slavery still exists today effortlessly. Definitely one of the more impressive experiments. $2.85.
We briefly interrupt Freaky Radio programming for a brief message from one of your local record industry heads:
All white men is runnin this rap sh!t, corporate forces runnin this rap sh!t
Setae Israeli is runnin this rap sh!t, we poke out our assess for a chance to cash in
Cocaine is runnin this rap sh!t, Dro, Yak and E-pills is runnin this rap sh!t
The rape over, turn your face over n!gga, no god in disguise, it's me, game over
Hey lil' soldiers, you're ready for more but don't ask what you're fighting for
Just hope that you survive the gunfight, the drama, the stress
You get in the line of fire, we get the big @ss checks
You gettin your choice to pimp, make your choice and fall in
This is ho-stroll B.I., take that c*ck in your behind, beeyotch
Hit the streets and perform for us, hold hard and bring it on to us f*cker
I let you sip, comes an army, get a Mercedes
And kick back and let you pay me, my mack is crazy
I leave the knife and fistfight filled with glamour
Yeah, take a picture with this platinum point, the sledgehammer
We overdo it, add the fire and explode it to it
We're so confused with one rap music
MTV, is runnin this rap sh!t, Viacom is runnin this rap sh!t
AOL and Time Warner be runnin this rap sh!t
We poke out the assess for a chance to cash in
Cocaine is runnin this rap sh!t, Hennessey is runnin this rap sh!t
And sexual is runnin this rap sh!t
Watch out, we run the world
Set against Jay-Z's “Takeover”, ladies and gentlemen, you have just experienced The Rape Over. Back to Freaky Radio. $2.90.
Mos sets out to prove he can get down with the best of them on the hardcore blues number, Blue Black Jack, a tribute to Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champ Featuring excellent guitar work from the legendary Shuggie Otis, Mos' takes predictable blues riffs and patterns and applies them to Jacks tale.. Many have complained that the sound is too predictable and overdone and adds nothing new to the mix. But if it ain't broke, it don't need fixing. Mos makes that point loud and clear as he flexes both sides of his coin by singing and emceeing. The star, of course, is Shuggie and his guitar, which carries the song throughout it's 5:47 extremely well. You can't help but stop fighting the infectious predictability and get down to the nitty gritty on here with Mos and Co. $3.00.
Now Mos wants to get a little funky and implement a little funk-soul into his repertoire. So we get another near-instrumental masterpiece dubbed Bedstuy Parade Funeral March. Against soulful organs, a funky bassline, and a catchy drum-and-snare loop, Mos creates a vivid mental image in the head with his instrumentation alone. The lyricism is on the short side as it only contains about 1:00 of actual vocalizing from Mos himself as he tells his lady, “I can't stand you/I just love you/I got something to give you/but I don't want to/the one I wanna be close to/but I can't touch you/cause I can see you/but I can't see good/cause you keep me crying.” Simple words back by powerful production that pack a just as powerful punch. $2.90.
The boaster in Mos comes out on the spry, Grammy-nominated lead single, Sex, Love Money. Against a minimalist-style drum-n-snare loop/sparse, menacing horn/woodwind amalgamation, the bouncy bare bones production is perfect for Mos' cocky veneer to roll off of as he composedly informs a lady how much of a “physical mastermind“ he is. One of the album's few cuts that panders to radio, a fact that doesn't hinder its performance at all. $3.00.
Considering this was a hip-hop album released in 2004, it should be no surprise that the most famous college dropout would make some sort of the contribution to the cause. So we get to sit back and hear the Sunshine peek through the speakers. To me, the song didn't immediately scream of Kanye's touch. (Thankfully) there's no annoying ad-libs or a guest appearance from the man himself and although the soul sample is there, it's used in a more subtle manner (for Kanye) that sounds like any underground/unknown producer could've pulled off. Mos flexes his lyrical deftness on here and does so with the greatest of ease, especially during the third-verse where he turns part of it into a run-on sentence that screams to be replayed; "brothers and sisters/fathers and mothers/that love us then leave us/they doubt us/believe us/ they stayers/the quitters/the b!tches/the n!ggas/rebel guerillas/the ghetto civilians/y'all gon feel it/ from the first to the millionth”; all the while proving that he's still a lyrical force to be reckoned with in hip-hop. $2.90.
Close Edge may sound familiar to some considering it's the rhyme Mos spat while riding in the car with Dave Chappelle during one of his skits on his show. I have to say that this is the first record I came across that I didn't care too much for. For the first time, the production is nothing special and neither is Mos' lyricism. He has a nice cadence but it's a case of talking fast and saying nothing. $.00.
Mos quickly redeems himself and shows he could moonlight as a soul crooner anytime. The Panties is the album's first love song and one of the purest hip-hop love songs to come along in quite some time. Don't let the title deceive you. Reading between the lines of it implies the smoothness of the record. Against intoxicatingly soulful production, that starts off with a sensual bass line and finger snaps and melts into percussive handclaps and a Marvin Gaye sample, Mos takes pillow talk to a new sonic level. By no means vulgar, raunchy or classless, Mos turns himself into a poet who lets his honest feelings speak for themselves. With simple yet creative lines such as, “I don't wanna be nowhere but here/nowhere in this atmosphere/stratosphere/ionosphere/ain't no sphere that's bright like here/I don't wanna be nowhere but here/no where in this atmosphere/I'm good where I am”, and the unadulterated honesty yet sly charm in Mos voice only amplifies the greatness of this song. OK, I've probably blown it out of proportion but it's a dang good song. $3.00.
Mos leaves no time to bask in the afterglow in order to tackle the popular subject of War. It hits the ground running with the impatient bass line, energetic percussion and cyclical keys creating a adequate freestyle beat before resurrecting “Freaky Black Greetings” before song's end. All done while Mos flow is timed perfectly with the beat and helps him speak about how war is a global economic phenomenon. It's a simple song that should be paid close attention to. $1.85.
Another one of the more impressive pieces is Grown Man Business (Fresh Vintage Bottles) featuring newcomer Minnesota. The production makes effective use of Nas' “No Idea's Original” to create a fresh vintage sound. Both Mos and Minnesota wax poetic about struggling to make a living in the hood. Their descriptions are vivid and their lyricism is top-notch, all of which makes this simple song pack a powerful punch. $2.90.
Definitely the record's most ambitious moment would have to be the 9-minute tribute suite to Marvin Gaye, Modern Marvel. The first movement is acapella, with a faint sample of “Flyin High” playing in the background, as Mos pours out his honest falsetto vocals (and puts likeminded singing emcees to shame) and just makes you hang onto every word he's saying. Then the sample gets louder and we move into the second movement, which has Mos' toasting life and whatnot against the sample and a simple drum loop. Then it all briefly fades out and the third movement kicks in. Then Mos takes a sample of “What's Going On” and loops it as he proficiently takes some of Marvin's lyrics and analyzes them to see if they're still applicable to today's society and then ponders what it would be like if Marvin were still alive and what he would think of the modern world. Listen to all 9:19 of this and then you tell me if Mos doesn't deserve the title “modern marvel” as well. $3.05.
Yet again, Mos taps right back into his emceeing vein for the introspective Life Is Real. Against 70's-styled production, complete with blaring horns and mellow percussion, Mos keeps the concept simple and speaks on how real his life is and all of the daily trappings that he has to deal with. A lot of which I think many can relate to and another simply powerful record. $2.25.
The hip-rock vibe returns on The Easy Spell. The buzzing guitars, rubbery bass line and staggering percussion really creates a distorted and slightly drugged vibe that matches the song's staggering pace. But the song seems to kinda plod. The small chant of “y-e-a, yea!” is catchy but Mos' plain-spoken lyricism and the song's pace makes the song disposable at best. $.99.
Being next to the last track makes The Beggar all the more climactic and dramatic. Here, Mos goes for the kill and unleashes all of his emotions on this song. Against extremely haunting and chilling production, thanks to the cascading steel drums and lethargic pace of all the other instrumentation. But it's all about the lyrics and vocals on here as Mos gives his most damnedest performance of the album, draining his soul in sheer desperation while trying to get the woman he loves to understand how much he does love her. All of it culminating in a startling, shrill scream, resulting from Mos' frustration, anger, desperation, and pain. This record is definitely chilling and moving in every sense of the word. $3.05.
After a brief spoken outro, giving praises to God, Champion Requiem kicks in. 88 Keys' production is on-point, with the hard-hitting, bouncy drum-n-snare loop mixing well with the bass line and synths, creating a jam that wouldn't be out of place on the dance floor. Mos keeps the lyricism on-point, rapping about how he's gotten to this point and how all he asks is for us to settle and rock with him. And with that, the Freaky Radio broadcast is over. $2.85.
There were a lot of expectations that Mos had to meet with the follow-up to Black On Both Sides. People were definitely expecting the sequel and Mos delivering anything else could lead to career suicide. The New Danger is something unexpected and proof that it's better to make your own expectations to live up to rather than someone else's. Mos decided to be a little more experimental and creative with this project and acts like he never gave it a second thought. Now there have been complaints that the album is too boring, too self-indulgent, too long, and/or too preachy. I, for one, applaud Mos' audacity to indulge his musical predilections and entertain his fan base without sacrificing any of his talent or soul. In the opening, he asked to be our favorite nightmare. Nightmares are usually intense and startling and usually result in things we don't understand. This album is Mos' nightmare. It's intense, startling, and many may not understand it or the reasoning behind it. But in the case of this nightmare, we should embrace it. Running away might be dangerous.
Great Music to Play While: being surprised at how cohesive an experimental album like this is.
New Dangers: “Blue Black Jack”:: “Sex, Love Money:: “The Panties”:: “Modern Marvel”:: “The Beggar”
New Crap: “Freaky Black Greetings”:: “Close Edge”
Album Worth: $41.68 - What are you scared of?