Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Mos Def: The Ecstatic [Downtown, 2009]
You know how Will Smith makes the corny hip-hop albums you'd expect of a leading man with a sense of humor? Well, this is the arty hip-hop album you'd expect of a character actor who steals every marginal flick he's in--only unlike Smith's, Mos Def's is good. Half associative rhymes that clock in under two-and-a-half minutes, devoid of hooks but full of sounds you want to hear again, it's like a dream mixtape--one unresolved track morphing into the next to define a world hip-hop with poles in Brooklyn and Beirut. Almost every thoughtfully slurred word is comprehensible, including most of the ones he sings in Spanish, and the vision justifies the Malcolm X intro. In "The Embassy," Mos Def describes a luxury hotel as an outsider, too aware to come on like one of those thug fools who think they own a joint that'll blacklist them five years from now. And in the Bed-Stuy lookback "Life in Marvelous Times" he offers a credo: "More of less than ever before/It's just too much more for your mind to absorb/It's scary like hell, but there's no doubt/We can't be alive in no time but now." A