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 blogcritics.org 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 toBlack 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 Sidestrack "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 mtv.com)
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 about.com)
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 about.com 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

(Dec. 28, 2006 @ 12:02 by Eddie)
I bought it the other day at Best Buy, since the dates kept getting pushed, I guess they had them in stock already. They werent in the shelves, but i asked and the dude gave me a copy to purchase. probably doesn't want to clash with other release dates, since it got no promotion

-----Original Message-----

From: [address redacted]
Date: Fri, 29 Dec 2006 16:56:13
To: [address redacted]
Subject: Re: VILLAGE VOICE FEATURE ON MOS DEF

Makkada

Thanks for your email.

On December 21st, Geffen moved the release date from December 29th to sometime in January. I will not know the actual date until Geffen reopens from the holiday break on January 2nd. The album did leak. How I don't know but as a result I was told that it is changing and additional tracks will be added.

I do not know why the albums release date was moved but at the point it changed, albums had already been shipped to Universal distribution. I was told by the record label that a few copies may make it out into the market place. I was not told they would be at Target. I will speak to the label about this. This is also the first time I have been told that the album is being streamed on the label's site. I am sure that Mos is unaware of this as well.

Thank you,

[Mos Def's Publicist]

Sent via BlackBerry from Cingular Wireless

-----Original Message-----

From: [address redacted]
Date: Fri, 29 Dec 2006 21:23:28
To: [address redacted]
Subject: Re: VILLAGE VOICE FEATURE ON MOS DEF

How can Target be selling this if it hasn't been released yet?

Also Geffen's streaming the entire album from their website. They've got the whole dang album up. Are they trying to help Mos sell records or what?


(Jan. 8, 2007 from vh1.com)
Now you see it, now you don't. At least that's what Geffen Records is hoping will happen with Mos Def's latest album, Tru3 Magic. Although the LP was available for purchase online and at some retail outlets as early as December 19th, representatives from Geffen are calling the project a limited-edition "pre-release" rather than a full-scale album release by the rapper—a rare if not unprecedented situation. Now a springtime release, featuring a slightly altered track list and full artwork (the current packaging ofTru3 features only a picture-CD in a blank plastic case), will be set even though the project officially charted last week — debuting at 151 on the Billboard albums chart on 11,004 copies sold, according to SoundScan. So fans who manage to get their hands an early copy ofTru3 Magic, consider yourself the owner of a collector's item.

Parts of True Magic sound as impromptu as his performance on that flatbed truck outside of Radio City: just noodling on the boards, "Ooh, that sounds cool—let's leave it"–type moments, improvised ditties like "Perfect Timing" and off-the-top shit like "Lifetime." "There Is a Way" was recorded live and consists of a single refrain—"There is a way/No matter what they say"—sung over and over. Sounds good, but less like a full-bodied track and more like a jingle.

Yet despite its occasional lax moments, the album as a whole has an intensity and rambling impromptu-ness that few artists ever attain. The Temptations-sampling "Undeniable"—wherein Mos tells us, "Live your life right" and describes himself as "a foundation that cannot be moved"—is catchy and safe enough for Grammy voters, but hardly the strongest cut. The counterpointing bugles of "True Magic" are a fitting soundtrack for an action hero like Mos, whose idiosyncrasies and singularity of purpose hip-hop desperately needs. He's a masterful storyteller and rhetorician, an MC in the classic sense of the word who utilizes a diverse array of lyrical and musical approaches to communicate his theses. At first you wonder why he breaks into the antebellum Negro spiritual that goes "Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom" at the end of "Fake Bonanza." Could it be 'cause blacks as a whole are pretty much still enslaved?

(Dec. 13, 2006 @ 16:04 blogcritics.org comment by JasonP)
Do you not realise this is an album soley made to get out of a record contract with Geffen? You make some good observations, you just don't seem aware of the reason no one including Mos cares if this album sucks or not . . . As far as the Grammy people . . . well . . . what do they know anyway? they are dated fools.

Because (everybody now) . . .

All white men is runnin' this rap shit
Corporate forces is runnin' this rap shit
Some tall Israeli is runnin' this rap shit
We poke out our asses for a chance to cash in
Cocaine is runnin' this rap shit
Viacom is runnin' this rap shit
'Dro, 'gnac, and E pills is runnin' this rap shit
MTV is runnin' this rap shit
AOL and Time Warner is runnin' this rap shit
We broke out our asses for a chance to cash in
("The Rapeover," from The New Danger)

Anyway, True Magic. Will someone please tell Mos his singing ain't all that? No one wants to buy his CD and hear him singing half the damn time. All these motherfuckers tryin' to be Al Green.

(December 19, 2006 @ 02:12 by J)
You're all fools—this album is nuts! One of my favourite right now. Mos Def puts most MCs to shame with effortless flow.

Mos Def performs at Lincoln Center on January 17 as part of its "American Songbook" series, lincolncenter.org.

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