Mos Def

The New Danger

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When it takes you five years to follow up a debut of near-landmark stature, you're setting yourself up for failure. Mos Def's second solo album is not disastrous, but it's a sprawling, overambitious mess. A handful of songs from this 75-minute affair feature Black Jack Johnson, the rock band Mos set up with some very respected musicians: bassist Doug Wimbish (Sugar Hill house band, Living Colour), drummer Will Calhoun (Living Colour), guitarist Dr. Know (Bad Brains), and keyboardist Bernie Worrell (Parliament/Funkadelic). While that's a deadly cast of support, those guests seem to have gone into this inspired more by the negligible rap-meets-rock Judgment Night soundtrack than their own past work. The grooves and riffs are basic (of the dull variety), and the vocals rarely surpass echo-heavy shouts of "Let's go!" "Come with it!" and "F*ck you, pay me!" As poor as those songs are, the lowest point of the album is "The Rape Over," a rewrite of Jay-Z's "The Takeover" that jacks Kanye West's beat from same that, for all its sharp rage, is ruined by the line "Quasi-homosexuals is running this rap sh*t" (it's not a boast). Unsurprisingly, the hottest moments tend to come when Mos sticks to what he does best. One slight exception to this is "Modern Marvel," a nine-minute suite smeared with a series of Marvin Gaye samples. Mos sings in whispers (he makes Pharrell sound like Luther, but he has the required spirit), momentum floats in as easy as a light breeze, and then the MC shifts into goosepimple-raising mode. Throughout the whole thing, Mos Def's conviction is apparent. Even with that in his favor, in addition to considering the extra-genre dabblings on Black on Both Sides, The New Danger sounds confused. It should've taken Mos at least three more records for him to reach this state of restless aimlessness. What grates most is that Q-Tip's Kamaal the Abstract, the best out of the rash of horizon-broadening records from rap artists the past few years, remains unreleased.

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