Mos Def: True Magic Review

After pushing the limits on The New Danger, Mos Def returns from adventures in deep space and on the silver screen with a new album, which showcases a more stripped-down and rootsy side of one of hip-hop’s most versatile men. Continuing his streak of making innovative, conscious and soulful music, the Renaissance man’s latest release True Magic is exactly what the title says. The album’s tracks deliver critical, crafty rhymes and fresh hooks as Mos raps, chants and sings his way through the streets of Brooklyn, the world of hip-hop, the heights of Black consciousness, the depths of US politics, and the feelings of love – both lost and gained.

The undeniable allure of this album lies in the seamless, uncompromising blend of politics and aesthetics which has been Mos Def’s stock and trade for over a decade. He alternates between in-your-face combative confrontation and lucent intellectual contemplation with the dexterity of Tyson in his prime, no joke, no lie, no line. For Black Star and Black on Both Sides fans who found The New Danger alienating or too experimental, welcome back. The eclectic and seemingly haphazard mixing of rap, neo-soul, gospel and rock behind phat beats in time and the truth in rhyme is back.

The back bone of the album is of course Mos Def’s uncompromising voice and ability to spin thought. More often than not, he is accompanied by simple hooks, no nonsense, which range from the bold synth lines of the title track to old-school guitar line on ‘Fake Bonanza’. However, some of the most deliciously devastating moments on the album come from the dense textures on ‘There is a way’, which features a gospel-type female chorus. Also worth note is ‘Dollar Day’, a deep critique of the politics of the Bush administration centered on New Orleans. Can you deny the words “Mr President he about that cash/he got a policy for handlin’ the niggas and the trash/and if you poor, you black/I laugh, they ain’t givin’ you ass/you better off on crack/dead or in jail or with a gun in Iraq”?

Mos also produces one of the few love songs on the market which portrays the true complexity of a relationship. On “U R The One”, he narrates through the difficult feelings of longing and anguish, angst and anger, lust and memory which comes as blessed relief from the glut of cookie cutter love songs out there.

‘True Magic’ is hip-hop, straight, no chaser; it’s an album in a classic sense: it is made to be spun front to back, and not a product of the handful of singles and a lot of filler formula which dominates so much of pop music. The bare packaging of the CD reflects this – it is sold in a plain clear plastic case with no liner notes, just the disc. Perhaps because ultimately it is the music that matters, the rest is just bells and whistles.

4.5 stars – worth every penny

Track Listing:

1. True Magic
2. Undeniable
3. U R The One
4. Thug Is A Drug
5. Crime & Medicine
6. A Ha
7. Dollar Day
8. Napoleon Dynamite
9. There Is A Way
10. Sun, Moon, Stars
11. Murder Of A Teenage Life
12. Fake Bonanza
13. Perfect Timing
14. Lifetime

by Justin Patch