Mos Def | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A message from Mos Def to black folks: We have met the new danger and, lo and behold, it is not us ... well not entirely.


The new danger is not the thugniggagangstahustlapimp that pervades American society. No, the new danger (as pointed out on "The Rape Over") is the multinational, corporate, Jewish-underwritten, Seagram's-soaked, MTV-stamped companies that package, brand and distribute the lowest common denominator of black culture in its most minstrel of outfits, and then tells black youth that you must remain within thugniggagangstahustlapimp parameters to exist and be profitable.


I'm always suspicious of black, urban-league, young-professional types who esteem themselves on how marketable they are. The only thing that should be marketable is product and property. Once you've ceased to see yourself as a human being, and begun to see yourself in product and property terms, is it safe to say that you've returned to chattel slavery status?


Mos Def has always been the person who's let his God-given talents and God-given humanity win over at the end of the day. You always get the sense with him that, unlike a Master P., Mos Def is acting because he can actually act. That unlike Russell Simmons, he's doing poetry jams because he's actually a poet. And that unlike Saul Williams, he can explore rock, because he actually rocks. And he rocks because he understands the blues.


There's so much brilliant and exemplary material on New Danger, I don't know where to begin. How about the blues? How about "Blue Black Jack," featuring guitarist Shuggie Otis, which reinstates blues back in its proper pre-Eric Clapton context? If you don't listen to it over a bottle-a whisky, it will probably sound merely "simply fuckin' great," as opposed to "fuckin'-smack-ya-mom-in-the-mouth-and-give-her-dimples marvelous."


Move on to "Bedstuy Parade & Funeral March," which re-instrumentalizes the sample from Rakim's "Juice (Know the Ledge)." Here Mos Def simply hums and howls before wailing about his "sweet gangsta woman." It's eight songs deep, "Sex, Love & Money," before we even hear Mos Def rap in any kind of conventional sense. And even here, he's perfectly content with letting the beat ride -- a conga-and-bass drop-step that flirts with flute giggles -- rather than trying to cram lyrics down our throats. Mos Def is the rare rapper who's not gassed off his own voice; he actually cares enough about the music to let it breathe.


His Muslim melisma flows raw and thick, like melted candle-wax on cuts like "The Panties" -- not what you think, I promise -- and "Modern Marvel," a noteworthy nine-minute nod to Marvin Gaye, partly sung/partly rapped, where he asks "If Marvin were alive now / wow / what would I say to him / where could I start? / how could I explain to him? / I know the world would probably look strange to him ... global imprisonment, sickness, indifference / when he said 'save the babies' were we listenin'?"


Listening to The New Danger, it's hard to believe this is only Def's third album in seven years -- his second solo. He came out in 1998 with Talib Kweli guest-starring as his younger brother, and to this day Kweli can't shake off that identity -- even though they haven't recorded together since '98. It's no wonder: Mos Def is "leagues ahead of the game" as he says in the Kanye West-produced "Sunshine," while Kweli is still learning the rules.


Re-contextualized, the new danger is also a nigga like Def who refuses to buckle to corporate execs who claim they know what's best, what's most marketable, for black culture and entertainment. On his CD cover he wears blackface and red-lip paint. He holds his trigger finger to his temple. He wants to suicide the buffoon in us and homicide the forces who seek to profit off it. Bamboozled he's not. What could be scarier?

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