There's not much evidence that any of the involved cares much about True Magic. Dumped on a post-Christmas/pre-New Year graveyard release date -- and, oddly, a Friday at that -- the disc comes in a clear plastic box with no artwork, unless you count the sticker slapped onto the back. (Suggested retail price: $16.99.) The FBI anti-piracy warning is the biggest logo on the package, and beside it, those who would like to see the credits are directed to www.mosdefmusic.com. The week the disc was released, there were no credits to be found on the site; the latest news item, in fact, was posted in early October 2005. Add to this the well-circulated rumors of Mos Def's desire to be extricated from Geffen, and the expectations are bound to be significantly lowered. No matter the circumstances, True Magic is a muddled, low-energy disappointment. Mos frequently seems like he's staring at a blank wall as he rhymes and sings, rattling off his thoughts with a distinct lack of authority. On almost every track, his voice is cloaked in echo, which only adds further detachment. The beats tend to be as bleary and boilerplate, or merely slapped into place. A synthesized replay of the horn riffing from Jimmy Castor's "It's Just Begun" sounds stuck between settings marked "kazoo" and "toy trumpet." "Crime & Medicine," using the instrumental of GZA's "Liquid Swords," belongs on a mixtape. "U R the One," possibly a Kanye West production, almost qualifies as half-assed parody (nostalgia-inducing strings, dramatic punctuations, wordless female background vocals, plinky percussion), and when it's followed immediately by the most-likely-intended-as-parody beat of "Thug Is a Drug" (plodding "suspense" keyboards, fake gun fire, comically rapid-fire percussion hits), it's all the more bewildering. There is just enough quality material ("Dollar Day," "Fake Bonanza," "There Is a Way") to make the average fan not want to wipe the whole thing from memory, but the flashes of brilliance are all too scarce. It's unthinkable that Mos has nothing left in the tank for hip-hop. He must be saving his strength for the next release.
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AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman