Manifest Destiny

Artist: Urban Thermo DynamicsTitle: Manifest DestinyRating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Paine

Just as Mos Def drops his long awaited sophomore album, some of his unreleased work surfaces. In New York’s indie scene Mos Def, his brother DCQ, who went on to from Medina Green, and female emcee Ces were a heavy presence in Brooklyn ciphers and Manhattan’s Lyricist Lounge. But to many, Mos Def began on De La Soul’s Stakes is High, or as that cat that hosts HBO’s Def Poetry Jam. Manifest Destiny is an album the trio and extended fam recorded between 1995 and 1997; a great artifact of pre-Rawkus Mos Def material, as well as just plain gritty Hip-Hop from the good ol’ days.

Contrary to popular belief, Mos Def was not the star of UTD. Like Kool Moe Dee in Treacherous Three, Mos Def comes as a crucial link in a very dynamic group chemistry. In several tracks like the heavily circulated, “Manifest Destiny,” Ces is the star. Likewise, DCQ rocks beautifully over, “My Kung Fu.” However, Mos’ verse on “Victory” chalks up with one of his best. Channeling a delivery reminiscent of Arrested Development’s “Tennessee,” Mos Def reveals his outlet in writing as a confused youth.

The production on Manifest Destiny serves its purpose wonderfully. Most of the tracks are drum-heavy, simple tracks that group’s like UTD were using to shop demos in the early days. Two major players from D.I.T.C. actually contributed to the then, unknown’s album. Diamond produced the title-track, which received a bit of buzz in its day. Showbiz also was on board to arrange “Moon in Cancer.” This beat has outstanding percussion with fabulous background bells and layered vocals for the chorus. J-Prince and Backspin also were responsible for much of this album’s simple, but never-boring sound. All three members of UTD enhance the simple beats with amazing vocal range and great delivery tricks.

Despite the fact that its Mos Def’s visibility that will foster the most interest, UTD proves themselves a worthwhile group. While no significant deals were offered during the recording years, UTD remains more relevant to today’s angst and subject matter than many top groups in the mid-90’s. Like Juggaknots’ Clear Blue Skies, this album is so rugged that it polarizes its audiences. If you’re in search of a softer, fusion-friendly Mos Def, stay home. However, this is one of the purest Hip-Hop records to drop this year, and a true benchmark in Mos Def’s stellar young career. This album also raises the question, while DCQ is the project coordinator, and piece-maker for Illson Records, what happened to Ces? Although it may be unlikely to ever see another UTD group effort, Manifest Destiny wets the appetite to listeners, and sheds light to a great moment in time. If you aren’t feeling Hip-Hop at the moment, and you miss being able to play a record for a month straight, look no further.