Clip: Mos Def's show as unfocused as new 'Danger'
- I like _The New Danger_ more than Vrabel does, but this concert review
gives a good taste of what Mos Def is doing now.
Mos Def's show as unfocused as new 'Danger'
December 7, 2004
BY JEFF VRABEL Staff Reporter
"I don't hate players, I don't love the game/I'm the shot clock, way above
the game," rhymes Mos Def on "Sunshine," from his frustrating new disc,
"The New Danger." Five years ago, such a grandiose taunt would have been
underselling it -- the one-two salvo of "Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black
Star" and Mos' stunning solo debut, "Black on Both Sides," neatly
positioned the copper-voiced MC as an ambassador for the kind of organic,
politically minded music that's viewed with perennial optimism as "the
future of hip-hop."
But five years is an eternity in rap, and the interim has found the
Brooklyn native exploring not music but movies (he just finished shooting
his role as Ford Prefect in the movie version of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to
the Galaxy") and the Broadway stage. Maybe that's why "The New Danger" is
as scattered as its predecessor was sharp. A sophomore effort by strict
definition only, "Danger" isn't so hip-hop but a shapeless grab bag of
blues, reggae, rap and metal, and seems at least in part to be the debut of
Mos' long-threatened hard-rock hobby, Black Jack Johnson.
The record's jarringly lukewarm response begged the question of how the
rapper could shape those songs live, whether the stage would help him
locate the music's unifying points. But in reality, the opposite seemed to
happen: Live on Sunday night at a packed House of Blues, Mos Def came off
twice as unfocused.
Mainly, "Danger's" songs are just weaker. "Sex, Love and Money" and the
Kanye West-produced "Sunshine" found appreciably thick grooves, but tracks
like the Muddy Waters nod "Blue Black Jack" and the skittery "Close Edge,"
for all their stylistic reaches, came off thin and plodding (particularly
since Black Jack Johnson appeared only in playback, giving the net effect
of going to a club to listen to a live band on record).
But part of the problem was the arty-smarty vibe that Mos seems to have
adopted; his between-song monologues through a vocal-effects machine
aspired to a smirking indie sensibility that never fully materialized. And
part was sheer rambling. Songs like the sleepy "Life Is Real" and "The
Panties" seemed listless and half-formed, and in the first encore, Mos
stepped back and watched his DJ spin a De La Soul track.
That said, later in the show, Mos uncoiled a brief series of poems in
near-freestyle, rat-a-tat-tat fashion, and in these a cappella moments the
old Mos broke through. The poems were lightning-quick, socially grounded
and fiercely delivered, and brought a focus lacking in the previous 90
minutes. Only when the rapper unleashed the mix-tape call-out of the
cellophane rap culture "Beef" ("Beef is not the summer jam at Hot 97/beef
is the cocaine and AIDS epidemic") did he begin to approach the old-Mos
sensibility of "Mathematics" and "Rock N' Roll," the sharp arsenal of
brains, charged commentary and whip-smart mike skills that have brought him
this far. (To that end, Black Star went unrepresented, and Mos only glanced
at "Black's" rubbery "Ms. Fat Booty" and the beautifully smoldering "Umi
Whatever the cause, Mos Def seems to be actively rebelling against being
pigeonholed, an admirable goal, and maybe his thirst for side projects has
clouded his vision. At least on Sunday, he seemed not unlike Ford Prefect:
He may have some answers, but he needs to figure out what questions he's