Artist: Mos DefTitle: The New DangerRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Jason Newman
Since his 1999 debut Black on Both Sides, Mos Def has become hip-hop’s Renaissance Man, acting in movies and on Broadway, fronting both a hard rock band and jazz ensemble, hosting poetry slams and, oh yeah, finding time to rap as well. For a man involved in so many different projects, no one should be surprised when listening to the diverse range of influences on The New Danger (Geffen). While not always hitting its mark, Danger can’t be faulted for lack of creativity, as Mos Def weaves blues, funk, 70s soul crooning, hard rock and punk into his expanded definition of “Hip-Hop.”
With varying results, what comes through the speakers is almost always interesting and original, yet only select tracks make a concrete impression on the listener. “Modern Marvel,” a 9 1/2-minute paean to Marvin Gaye acts as both the midpoint and highlight of Danger. Over various samples taken from Gaye’s 1971 classic What’s Going On?, Mos opens with a plaintive, mournful singing style that perfectly complements the despair and desperation of his words. That there’s no beat to distract you from his voice only strengthens the beginning of the song before building up to a minimal, thumping beat with Mos belting out Mayfield-style singular words. Eventually, a more conventional beat kicks in as Mos discusses what he’d say to Gaye over a “What’s Going On?” sample. It’s a chilling, thoughtful epic that will rank among Mos’s best work. Elsewhere, Kanye West and Molecules provide some of the best beats on the album with “Sunshine” and “Life is Real” respectively (the former flipping The Fifth Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In.”)
These gems, however, are exceptions to rule of creativity over quality. The four tracks that Black Jack Johnson appear on admirably try to take rap-rock away from 17-year old suburbanites but mostly fall short. Maybe it’s because now that rap-rock is dying off, saving it seems less vital than its peak in the late 90s, when Mos’s “Rock N Roll” was channeling Bad Brains and pummeling your eardrum.
You gotta give props to Mos Def for being one of a handful of cats continually expanding the rigid parameters, by mainstream standards, of Hip-Hop. He is nothing short of a musical visionary on this level. However, in his quest to differentiate himself from the rest of hip-hop, The New Danger often is good, but rarely excels further.