Mos Def, The Ecstatic (Downtown Music)

A decade on, Def steps up with something to prove
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After the clear disappointment of 2006's True Magic—a bland, throwaway album dropped into stores in an empty plastic case without cover art—Mos Def seemed more concerned with burnishing his IMDB page than re-energizing his rap career.

But he jettisons the Hollywood distractions and jolts back to life on The Ecstatic, a global village of beats that shows him approaching his passionate, firebrand form from a decade ago. For many of the album's beats, Def wisely calls up Stones Throw artists, including Oh No—whose thundering psych-guitar-sampling track, "Heavy," provides the charge on album opener "Supermagic"—and Madlib, whose Beat Konducta–like contributions inject some of his wobbly, eclectic style. "Auditorium," featuring The Ruler, even exudes the smoky haze of Madvillainy.

The Ecstatic's cover art, a frame from Killer of Sheep, Charles Burnett's cinematic paean to life in Los Angeles' Watts community, suggests a more personal focus for Def, and even though shout-outs to his borough litter his lyrics, Def's passion is clear. On "Life in Marvelous Times," he proclaims, "We can't be alive in no time but now," and he raps like he means it.
[4 out of 5 stars]