'Ecstatic' falls in Mos Def's mix

(Robert E. Klein for The Boston Globe/File 2008)
June 8, 2009
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As Mos Def has pursued his film persona in recent years ("Be Kind Rewind," "Cadillac Records"), he has let his hip-hop career teeter. "The Ecstatic" isn't quite a return to his great moments like "Black on Both Sides" or his early Black Star years, but it does offer challenging and intelligent songs.

Recently, he has experimented with different musical approaches in performance (including rock), and this new album incorporates Middle Eastern influences amid some of the better beats he's worked with on solo projects. The problem is that Mos doesn't seem sure whether he wants to make a forward-looking disc or one that harkens back to old-school hip-hop. The transitions between songs are rough and things never cohere. "Life in Marvelous Times" does a nice job of reflecting on wonders of growing up and then fast forwarding to the possibility of the future. Spiked by a great hook, it's one of the best things here.

So is his collaboration with Talib Kweli, his former Black Star partner in rhyme, on "History," where their chemistry feels effortless. The fleet-tongued "Casa Bey" shows what Mos can do when he's focused, and it makes you wish he put together a whole record of songs as dynamic.

But the album is also littered with tracks that sound like fragments in search of completion. Mos is one of hip-hop's great talents, but hearing him rhyme "more" with "more" or dropping the line "Don't stop the rock" repeatedly makes you think he's mailing it in when he's off the set of his latest movie. (Out tomorrow) KEN CAPOBIANCO