Mos Def is back. But not with a vengeance. His latest CD, The New Danger--the supporting tour of which is being launched from Seattle on Monday, October 18, at Benaroya Hall with Jill Scott--isn't weak but it isn't as solid as his solo debut, Black on Both Sides (a near classic), and certainly several notches below Black Star's Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star (a classic). In the way that Phife Dog and Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest bemoaned the break-up of EPMD (Erick Sermon and Parris Smith) in 1993, one bemoans the break-up (or the failed reunion of) Talib Kweli and Mos Def. Theirs was a perfect match--Kweli, intellectual and militant; Mos Def, sexy and cosmopolitan. The separation has resulted in solo works that are incomplete, driven by one creative impulse instead of the two that gave us the last great hiphop CD of the '90s.

The New Danger is a sprawling work. It contains two tracks that are misty with memories of Marvin Gaye, who is to Mos Def what Sly (Sly and the Family Stone) is to Andre 3000. One of these tracks, "Modern Marvel," is almost 10 minutes long, and drifts on a warm, empyrean sea of samples from, and hummed/ moaned evocations of, What's Going On. Lovers and sentimental types might dig the tracks haunted by Gaye's ghost, but in anyone else they'll only inspire indifference. A number of the other songs are designed for the club ("That Dude," "Champion Requiem"), while the rest are heavy with rock ("Zimzallabim," "Freaky Black").

The least successful tracks on The New Danger are the rock ones, and not because they seem out of place but because they aren't hard enough. They lack the explosive power of, say, Run DMC's groundbreaking "Rock Box," the song that first blended genres way back in 1983. (It makes you wish that, like Jay Z's "99 Problems," Mos Def had hired the great Rick Rubin to produce his rock material.) In the end it's the tracks that are programmed to get you out of your seat that constitute the CD's highest and most satisfying achievements.

As an emcee, Mos Def has three dominate modes on The New Danger: one, Marvin Gaye-induced reveries; two, the politically conscious raps that he perfected on Black Star; and three, gangsta-hard raps. The first two modes are in order with Mos Def's personality; the third isn't. Mos Def is too smart to be a real gangster. No matter how many times he says "nigga," or "bitch," or claims that he is "close to the streets," "to killers, addicts, the dealers" ("Close Edge"), it sounds all wrong coming out of a the mouth of a man who just completed playing Ford Perfect in the film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy--a role that no head--no matter how many downed vodkas, roached joints, chomped mushrooms--could ever imagine über-gangsta 50 Cent playing.

Larry Mizell Jr. was unavailable last week. We hope he returns next week.


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