Mos Def

The New Danger (Geffen)

Nov 3, 2004 at 4:00 am
There is a problem among underground MCs, and it is a problem of timing. After years of paying dues with modest record sales -- when the world finally seems ready for the breakout album that will change the idiotic rap game he has rebelled against for so long -- something snaps. The rapper suddenly finds himself with a need to expand his horizons. Instead of crossover success and a possible revolution, the album is the most bizarre shit ever. It flops, and the poor guy is back to square one. The notable exception to underground rap's recurring nightmare is OutKast's how-the-hell-did-this-blow-up opus Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. To say that The New Danger is the mighty Mos Def's attempt to capture the genre-bending magic that is The Love Below is to oversimplify -- and to give Mos too much credit.

The New Danger is a Frankenstein of an album, pieced together from the remains of Mos' soul/funk band, Black Jack Johnson, warmed-over mixtape freestyles and a few frustratingly good raps. Black Jack Johnson shows promise. Unlike most MCs, Mos can actually sing (sit down, Ja Rule), and it doesn't hurt to have funk greats like drummer Will Calhoun and Funkadelic's Bernie Worell on keyboards. At its best, on songs like "The Beggar," BJJ does sound like the organic Brooklyn interpretation of Andre 3000's Dirty South sound. At its worst, as on the end of "War," Mos yells about some bullshit, and the guitars are crunchy and heavy. Limp Bizkit comparisons are unavoidable. Mos Def can still rhyme, as he does on the Chapelle's Show-previewed "Close Edge" or "Grown Man Business." But only on the (of course) Kanye West-produced "Sunshine" does the old Mos show up, the one who penned the classic bars of Black Star's "Respiration." The New Danger is Mos Def's breaking point: unfocused, weird and uninteresting.