True Magic

Artist: Mos DefTitle: True MagicRating: 3 StarsReviewed by: Paine

If KRS-One hadn't taken it first, Mos Def deserves to title an album The Sneak Attack. Following The New Danger's sparse at best promotional campaign, Mos Def snuck into the last days of 2006 with the quietly released True Magic (Geffen). Released with no inserts or artwork, the Brooklyn MC/Rock Star/Actor triple-threat may be making an artistic statement, or just a De La Soul-like attempt to get kicked off a label. Like its presentation, this album’s music feels dull, confusing, and out of sync with the times.

Just as Danger's "Grown Man Business (Fresh Vintage Bottles)" revealed Minnesota and Mos Def's interests in street lure, so does "Thug is a Drug." Mos Def and his longtime producer reunite on a song that begins as an ode to the ego-tripping of gangsta rap, as Mos' bars morph from commentary to threatening. The song's chorus is just as vague, failing to clarify what the artist's really trying to say. Five years ago, little was lost in translation in a Mos Def verse. "Crime & Medicine" furthers Mos' tradition of covering Hip-Hop favorites, as he re-interprets GZA's "Liquid Swords." Although Mos tributes Genius with great honor, one cannot help but wonder if this song was chosen strictly for the fact that it's one of the few Hip-Hop classics that’s in the Geffen catalog. Where others fall short, Mos’ introspection reigns on "Dollar Day," a Katrina tribute. Where Juvenile's "Get Your Hustle On" captured the anger, David Banner's "Seeing Thangs" captured the fear, it is "Dollar Day" that even a year and a half later, best embodies the critical hindsight of September '05.

Musically, True Magic recruits similar personnel to The New Danger, but with a different sound. The Rock influenced is subdued, finding its way in tighter, more centralized form-such as Rich Harrison's guitar strings on "Undeniable." Preservation incorporates a live lounge feel into "Napoleon Dynamite," using fuzzy organ stabs, and simple and steady percussion. Between Harrison, Preservation, and Minnesota, the sounds on True Magic are muddied, and the energy dwindles, no matter the tempo.

Ten years after is star turn on De La’s Stakes is High, Mos Def has become a top Hip-Hop entertainer. His mind is a third eye to many listeners, and he takes chances that cower others. True Magic sounds to be a rushed recording and release, far removed from the places and people that made the Mos great. Despite its Wu-Tang interpolation, unlike the "purple tape," ten years from now, it's highly doubtful that anybody will revere Mos Def's "clear CD."