Unless you were earnestly searching out this album, chances are you missed its release altogether. The release date was pushed back roughly 8 times. And then, when it finally seemed set for January 9, it appeared, out of nowhere, on Friday, December 29. There was no press behind it. Even after its release, many places had the release still listed at January 9.
And then there’s the packaging. A CD in a clear plastic case. The track listing was on the CD. The only stuff on the case itself was an explicit lyrics sticker, and an anti-piracy sticker on the back, along with a message saying that credits were available at his website (which they weren’t, until 2 weeks after the album released).
So much has been made of the case. Some say he wanted to let the music speak for itself, with nothing else to look at while you were listening to it. Some said that he didn’t want to re-up his contract with Geffen, and this was his way of screwing them for money (seeing as how he’s a movie star now, and doesn’t really need their money). Some said that Geffen was mad that he didn’t re-up with them, so this is their way of screwing him out of money. Others have said that, since the album was leaked early, they wanted to get a version out to sell, and that they were planning on releasing an actual album with artwork and everything later in the year.
Well…whatever the reason, this album was released, sans artwork. So now we can get to the music.
Apparently I’m in the minority with my thoughts on this album. Aside from a track or two, I really like it. Perhaps I’m just a massive Mos Def apologist, but I really think that this is a much better album than most people are giving it credit for.
Mos really changed up his sound between his first album (Black on Both Sides, an instant hip-hop classic…very creative while, at the same time, paying homage to his “old school heritage”) and his second album (The New Danger, more on the progressive side of things, with some definite rap/blues-rock influences). He lost some fans between those 2, and some people started to wonder if his heart was in it anymore.
With this album, it really seems like he started getting back into old school mode. It’s not a complete throwback album or anything, but it’s definitely more along the lines of a straight-up hip-hop release, as opposed to an experimental journey.
As I said, there is a track here and there that I’m not too fond of. “U R the One” starts as a sweet, soul-backed song, then takes a quick turn to a profoundly angry break-up song. While it’s okay to listen to from time to time, it’s usually a song that I skip.
“Thug Is a Drug” starts out fine enough, but the chorus kills it. Mos starts singing, and it almost sounds like he’s singing off-key on purpose. I’ve heard him sing before, and he usually sounds pretty good, but, unfortunately, that’s not the case here.
Those are the only two songs I’m not too keen on. The rest of it I really dig. Some of the highlights are “Napoleon Dynamite” (for the record, it has nothing to do with the movie and everything to do with a funky soul, organ heavy backing…definitely the funkiest thing on the album), “Sun, Moon, Stars” (an acoustic jazzy track that kicks into one of the greatest horn samples in recent memory…you can’t help but nod your head to this one), “Dollar Day” (an angry song about the response to Katrina…he calls out everyone from The President to Bono), “True Magic” (a perfect opener…you can’t help but be drawn in), and “A Ha” (a total old-school hip-hop jam, complete with heavy scratching and the sound of a cocking gun in the background).
Is it the best release of his career? No…but it’s a solid release. In fact, it’s better than solid. I would say that it’s a top 3 hip-hop release from last year. It’s a shame that so many people missed this…please don’t be one of them.
Essential Tracks: “True Magic”, “Undeniable”, “Crime & Medicine”, “A Ha”
Favorite Tracks: “Dollar Day”, “Napoleon Dynamite”, “Sun, Moon, Stars”
Check it out here