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Mos Def - The New Danger

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Artist: Mos Def

Album: The New Danger

Label: Geffen

Review date: Nov. 29, 2004

I’m not exactly sure what “the new danger” is, but I do know of the dangers of The New Danger, Brooklyn wunderkind Mos Def’s first album since 1999’s excellent Black On Both Sides. There’s the danger of recycling material from one stalled project (Geffen didn’t want to release a record from Black Jack Johnson, Mos Def’s rap-rock band), the danger of simplifying a rap style to attempt to reach more, the danger of losing career momentum by staying away from the mic too long, or even that most classic danger of the sophomore album: loss of true hunger. Regardless of what the root causes are, the results are 18 undisciplined songs clocking in at a ridiculous 75 minutes, a messy, disappointing record that would be a miss from any artist, but from an artist of Mos Def’s talents, it’s a minor disaster.

Much of The New Danger’s failure can be blamed on Geffen throwing all their eggs in one basket, attempting to use Mos Def's name to sell the mediocre Black Jack Johnson material and more standard hip-hop in the same batch, thus coming up with a compromise that satisfies no one. Black Jack Johnson, a project so long in process the band lost its original name when surf-rocker Jack Johnson debuted, was clearly intended as an answer to Limp Bizkit and the other rap-rock acts assaulted on Black On Both Sides’ “Rock N’ Roll,” but their sounds aren’t much more appealing than their admittedly soulless competition.

Bernie Worrell’s presence might explain why certain songs, like “Freaky Black Greetings” and “Ghetto Rock,” sound like Funkadelic at their most guitar-heavy. Unfortunately, they also sound like Funkadelic at their least creative, and though Mos Def is still one of the best singing emcees, he seems to be making up the melodies as he goes on too many of these songs, particularly “The Boogie Man Song,” a poor man’s “Umi Says.” “Blue Black Jack” features some impressive axe work by guest Shuggie Otis squandered in a standard, boring, by-the-numbers blues song. Even “War,” an ominious, bass-heavy Psycho Les featuring Mos at his lyrically finest, is essentially ruined when the band comes in with Gary Miller’s unsubtle guitar a-blazing, and the whole thing denigrates into a chant of “Fuck you! Pay me!” Ever heard Public Enemy’s unfortunate version of “Bring The Noise” featuring Anthrax? Did you ever wish you could get a full LP of that?

Unfortunately, the Mos Def solo material that fattens this record isn’t consistently great either. The beat on “Bedstuy Parade & Funeral March” is so nice, Mos Def forgot to write verses for it. “The Rapeover,” a recycling of Kanye West’s track for Jay-Z’s “The Takeover” comments on the corporate forces that really run hip hop, but punctuating points with lines like “take that cock in your behind, beyotch!” actually makes them more easy to ignore. West’s other contribution, “Sunshine,” uses an obvious Hair sample in “Hard Knock Life” fashion, but qualifies as a genuine highlight here. The work of lesser-knowns Warryn “Baby Dubb” Campbell (“Sex, Love & Money,” a delightful flute-and-Eastern-percussion banger), Molecules (“Life Is Real”) and “Champion Requiem” (“Champion Requiem”) provides the only unqualified pleasures.

But when Mos gets caught up on how ghetto he is (“Ghetto Rock”) or rhymes “dawg” with “dawg” three too many times (“Life Is Real”), what I hear is an emcee no longer rhyming with joy, charisma, and creativity, precisely the traits that made The Mighty Mos Def mighty. In the last five years, Mos Def’s acting career has reached new heights on Broadway and the silver screen, while his guest appearances made for reason enough to buy other rappers’ records. With his own music career, however, it seems Dante Smith has temporarily lost his direction. After listening to The New Danger as well as the uninspiring The Beautiful Struggle, I have some advice to impart. Mos: call Talib Kweli. He misses you too.

By Josh Drimmer

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