During the first several years of the 2000s, it wasn't unreasonable to want Mos Def, one of the most dazzling living MCs, to make a rap album. After he released 2006's True Magic, his first all-rap release in seven years -- following the back-to-back instant classics Black Star and Black on Both Sides -- it was easier to understand why he had been devoting much more time to acting and diversions like The New Danger. It was evident that he was not inspired, no doubt prompting a fair portion of his followers to think, "OK, maybe we should have been more specific: please make a good rap album." On The Ecstatic, it's not as if Mos Def makes a full return to the lucid/bug-eyed rhymes heard on decade-old cuts like "Hater Players" and "Hip Hop." Instead, he comes up with a mind-bending, low-key triumph, the kind of magnetic album that takes around a dozen spins to completely unpack. Oscillating between cerebral gibberish and seemingly nonchalant, off-the-cuff boasts, it's obvious that Mos Def is back to enjoying his trade. For those who are deeply into the Stones Throw label, the album won't take quite as long to process. Some of the productions from brothers Madlib and Oh No were pulled from their instrumental releases, including a pair from the India-themed installments of the Beat Konducta series. Altogether, they provide much of the album's dusty off-centeredness; even though "Supermagic" has Mos Def at his most energized and alert, its needling psychedelic guitars and sweeping Bollywood drama are transportive. Combined with backdrops from Georgia Anne Muldrow, Preservation, the Neptunes' Chad Hugo, and the Ed Banger label's Mr. Flash, the album is a gumbo that adds juicy dub thwacks, regal synthetic horns, tangled piano vamps, dashes of spiritual jazz, and rolling Afro-beat, almost all of which is cloaked in light reverb. Though there are highlights throughout, two of the most notable tracks are at the very end: "History," where Talib Kweli joins in over a wistful J Dilla beat, and "Casa Bey," where a playful Mos Def somehow keeps up with Banda Black Rio's deliriously frantic samba funk.
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman
feat: The Ruler
feat: Georgia Anne Muldrow