When I first read about the Hitchens incident, the article made it sound as if Christopher Hitchens humiliated Mos Def and made him look like an idiot. It then started making excuses for Mos, saying he was playing devil's advocate in defending the Taliban, etc. Of course, when I finally saw the exchange, I had a different perspective. In my view, Mos Def asked a simple question regarding the deeper motives of the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and those who support them. Hitchens reacted with dismissive sarcasm, and none of the panel had the courage to delve into the issue any deeper than the “they're evil guys who want to take over the world” scenario. Weather you agree with Mos' point of view or not, this incident was a good example of him as someone with a unique perspective. He asks questions no one else is asking; and he's making music no one else is making.
|cover to The Ecstatic by Mos Def|
One thing that jumps out at me on The Ecstatic, is Mos' attitude toward song structure. People like Souls of Mischief, Doom, along with Mos Def are favorites of mine partially because of their willingness to either play with, or abandon the verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/breakdown structure of the average pop song. One dalliance in this area is what I call the “one verser” or the “perfect little song”. It's a technique I'd be wiling to bet he got from Doom. The best example of this might be Revelations: Using the “one verser” method, the rhymer will set the beat moving, and spit one long verse; perhaps 32 to 48 bars. However, the verse will have physical breaks or changes in them, cadence or rhyme pattern which, taken as a whole, connote a chorus and verse, but wouldn't be apparent to the listener until the end of the song. Mos also perfects on this album a technique he's used with varying results on the last 2 albums. I call it the “reprise verse” technique. This is where the rapper spits a short verse, maybe 8 bars or so, and then spits it again, but either with different subject matter or different words for the same rhyme scheme. For a great example of this, go to track #3, Auditorium feat. Slick Rick, or even better, track #12, Worker's Comp. This may seem like a simple trick, but Mos Def uses this technique to lend great poignancy to very simple rhymes.
Of course, Mos Def's singularity doesn't end at the Rhymes. I don't know if Mos actually made the beats on this album, but he's credited with producing the whole thing, so I assume that means he at least chose and mixed the beats that are used. Whatever the case, there are beats on this album that can literally be heard no where else in hip-hop. I don't know what he's been listening to in order to find the instrumentation and samples used on The Ecstatic, but I will say that a-lot of it reflects his fascination with Islam. Auditorium is clearly sampled from some sort of middle-eastern pop music, and The Embassy on track #8 is a great example of him rapping over an old-school, stripped down Arabic beat.
Before I finish, can I just say: It's great to have an MC with a subject and a predicate. One of the songs that made me a hip-hop head when I was young was My Philosophy by KRS-1. It showed me that there could be an entire class of MC out there whose claim to fame was intelligence. Nowadays, even amongst the Underground, one might have to search long and hard for rappers who use madd skillz to provoke intellectual curiosity. Thanks to Mos Def, we have an MC who understands black perspectives and issues, and takes them seriously; has mature and thoughtful ideas in his lyrics; and makes songs on a wide range of subjects. I don't think he made one drug sales reference the entire album, and he even stays away from the trap of harping on “the struggle” over and over again which a-lot of so called positive rappers fall into. The Ecstatic is an all positive album of unlimited subject range.
So, since Mos Def didn't get an NAACP image award, I'll present him with the Corance/GhettoManga Blackest Man In America award. Because he doesn't shoot people or sell drugs in his rhymes; he doesn't run around with his shirt off; he doesn't disrespect women. In fact, he brings new respect to the black community by saying things no one else is saying through music no one else is making. Brilliant!