Def in a Jam

On the endlessly inventive and increasingly mishandled career of Mos Def

It is December 7, 2006. Brooklyn-based rapper and Emmy-nominated actor Mos Def is up for a Grammy in the Best Rap Solo Performance category for "Undeniable," a track from his not-yet-released third LP, True Magic. It's the 33-year-old's second Grammy nod, though you'd think there'd be more, seeing as the Black Power rhymes over blaxploitation palettes on his 1999 solo debut, Black on Both Sides, preceded by his guest appearances with Native Tongues and his tenure in pivotal rap unit Black Star (along with Talib Kweli) cemented him years ago as a monumental figure in hip-hop history, Black.

(Dec. 16, 2006 @ 22:22 comment by Rashadlogic)
"Undeniable" got nominated for the Grammy's, but I think it's because of the poor selectin. Let's be honest, who the hell is going to vote for a song that they never even heard of: no music video, no radio play. I think he was last minute entry, just to fill the last spot.

It is 1999. Black on Both Sides, a masterpiece of musical, intellectual, and lyrical finesse, has come down on the game like a ton of project bricks. The production, though sample-heavy, is flawless, incorporating styles from reggae to rock and making particularly thoughtful use of Roy Ayers's jazz vibraphone. Obligatory female conquest track "Ms. Fat Booty" aside, the album is a manifesto covering everything from economics to ecology. "New World Water" addresses the world's water shortage years before Jay-Z noticed—"You can take it as a joke if you wanna/But it don't rain a full week some summers"— and most everything else Mos has to say will be relevant for years to come. Like this Emmett Till connection from "Mr. Nigga": "O.J. found innocent by a jury of his peers/And they been fucking with that nigga for the past five years/Is it fair?/Is it equal?/Is it just?/Is it right?/Do they do the same shit when the defendant's face is white?"

Someone gave him a bass just to distract him from singing.
Zach Cordner/Retna Ltd.
Someone gave him a bass just to distract him from singing.

(Dec. 20, 2006 @ 20:33 by RobbieK)
Listen to Black on Both Sides . . . then listen to it AGAIN . . . THEN REALISE MOS HAS EARNED NUFF RESPECT

It is 2004. Critics are not responding well to the experimental nature of M-dot-Def's second solo LP, The New Danger. In his unrelenting mission to recover rock 'n' roll as black intellectual property—a project initiated on the Black on Both Sides track "Rock and Roll," which taunted, "Elvis Presley ain't got no soul/Bo Diddley is rock and roll/You may dig on the Rolling Stones/But they ain't come up with that style on they own"—Def has formed his own rock band, Black Jack Johnson, which anchors a good portion of Danger and constantly draws connections between hip-hop and rock, connections peers like the Roots are starting to pick up on and utilize. In a time when Blue Note's roster (shout-out to Madlib) gets whiter and whiter and bookings at the Village Vanguard go to the Tierney Suttons and Diana Kralls, while the Nnenna Freelons and Rachelle Farrells are invisible, some ethnocentric cynics say hip-hop, like rock and seemingly jazz, is soon to be jacked too.

(Dec. 13, 2006 @ 16:08 by JasonP)
Oh, man, I had to return just to say this. No disresect, but THE NEW DANGER did not suck!!!

It is September 2005. In response to the Bush administration's slow-as-fucking-molasses response to Hurricane Katrina rescue efforts for the mostly . . . wait for it . . . black people of New Orleans, Mos Def records the vocals to "Dollar Day for New Orleans (Katrina Clap)" all in one take. The song contains the hip-hop quotable "If you're poor and you're black/You're better off on crack/Dead or in jail/Or with a gun in Iraq." It will be the first single off the forthcoming True Magic.

(Aug. 31, 2006 from
Mos Def (real name Dante Smith) was taken into custody and charged with disorderly conduct tonight after an unauthorized performance outside Radio City Music Hall during the MTV Video Music Awards. According to authorities the rapper pulled up in front of the venue in a flatbed truck at around 10 p.m. for an impromptu performance of "Katrina Clap" for the people gathered outside. An NYPD spokesperson said officers asked Mos Def and members of his entourage to shut down their operation due to crowd conditions and the overall safety of everyone involved. It wasn't clear whether Mos Def ignored or refused the orders.

(Dec. 20, 2006 from
Geffen continues its trend of mishandling hip-hop projects—well, just the ones with no direct ties to 50 Cent and/or Eminem—by dropping Mos Def's True Magic with little promotion. After several pushbacks, True Magic is now scheduled for release on December 29, 2006. The album features production by Pharrell Williams, Minnesota, and Preservation.

(Dec. 20, 2006 @ 13:06 comment by Nero)
Dec. 29? Isn't that a Friday?

(Dec. 21, 2006 @ 22:02 by Alex)
Thats weird, I saw this album last night while shopping at Target. hmmmm, makes me wish i would have bought it just to figure it out. Might see if its still there tomorrow

(Dec. 27, 2006 @ 16:11 by Mark)
sup kids, i just bought the album this morning . . . i keep seeing a release date of the 29th . .. but there were 4 copies at meijer when i got it so i have no idea what is going on

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