Following the release of 1999’s Black On Both Sides, Mos Def fell prey to Ice Cube syndrome: The more money his movies made, the less interested he became in creating great music. 2004’s The New Danger was a paranoid, self-indulgent monster that seemed to betray the voluminous promise of Black Star and his solo debut, while 2006’s True Magic barely got a release. The expectations greeting each new album have gone from sky-high to ground-level.
So perhaps it’s not too surprising that Def sounds frisky and liberated on The Ecstatic, a sprightly 16-song collection blessed with a one-take spontaneity and looseness. Ecstatic feels almost too loose at times, like a mixtape of hastily recorded tracks instead of a proper album. But there’s a sneaky cohesion to the album rooted in Def’s mellifluous voice (which segues effortlessly from rapping to singing), sympathetic production from Stones Throw-affiliated beat wizards (Oh No, Madlib, J Dilla, and Georgia Ann Muldrow collectively produced half the album), and a lyrical and sonic fascination with life beyond the Western World. Madlib has co-opted the Eastern experiments of Oh No on “Supermagic,” and on “Auditorium,” Def dispatches Slick Rick to Baghdad with delightful results, while “Priority” is a succinct statement of purpose that finds Mos Def triumphantly back on his KRS-One/teacher-type shit. It’s taken a decade, but Def has finally produced a worthy follow-up to his beloved solo debut.