Great Article On Mos Def in USA Today 

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This article was titled “Mos Def is most thoughtful as he focuses on myriad projects” by USA Today - Mos Def can’t suppress sheer delight over the exotic strains, heady beats and slurry flow of politically charged poetry on his new album, in stores Tuesday. That joy does not explain its title, “The Ecstatic.” Such logic would be too tidy for hip-hop’s cerebral agitator. “The Ecstatic” borrows its name from Victor LaValle’s 2002 darkly comic novel about an obese college dropout sinking into mental illness as his colorful Queens, N.Y., family copes.
“The term was used in the 17th and 18th centuries to describe people who were either mad or divinely inspired and consequently dismissed as kooks,” Mos Def says. “Something about that just resonated with me.

“It’s also a type of devotional energy, an impossible dream that becomes reality but is discredited before it’s realized. The airplane, a nutty idea. The telephone, the Internet. People who envisioned those were considered radical or extreme.”

“I love my decks,” he says. “It’s a great way to discover a neighborhood and keep fit. And it’s really Zen.”

A jumble of contradictions, he reads The Economist and relishes crass VH1 dating show For the Love of Ray J. Introduced to Islam by his father, he’s a Muslim who sprinkles his speech with “mashallah” (”what Allah wills”) but clings to Christian tenets.

“I’ve never felt like Islam was a discontinuation of Christianity,” says the twice-married father of seven. “I very much believe in Jesus. It was a natural progression. I come from a family of very devout, praying people. That idea of peace and love toward humanity shouldn’t be nationalistic or denominational. It should be a chief concern for all mankind.”

A subdued presence
There’s no posse when the rapper arrives poolside at the tony Sunset Marquis hotel on a recent sunny afternoon. His 5-year-old son, Fidel, changes out of a Spider-Man costume for a dip, insisting that Dad join him. Mos Def strips to his swim trunks and dives in, coaxing the boy to jump. A firm no. He gently lowers him in, but it’s too chilly, so Fidel is quickly swaddled into a towel and Mos Def swims a few laps.

Settling in for a chat, Mos Def, a vegetarian, offers to order hummus or guacamole for Fidel, who prefers to curl up in his father’s lap.

Over the next hour, Mos Def quotes John Lennon, Socrates, a Ghanaian proverb and his refrigerator magnet (”Peace is not the absence of trouble”). He talks about how his writing and rhyming skills have sharpened since the single Universal Magnetic put him on the rap map 12 years ago.

“The aim is high,” Mos Def says of his fourth studio effort and first since 2006’s True Magic, which was released without promotion in a clear case sans cover art. Conversely, three singles have preceded the arrival of The Ecstatic, which draws on the talent of Madlib, Slick Rick, Chad Hugo, Scarface, Talib Kweli and K’Naan. “I don’t want to waste anyone’s time or money. I want to give people some truth and positive heart lift. The quality, clarity and ambition are there. There are no discotheque anthems. Um, no disrespect to discotheque.”

The unusually self-effacing and modest Brooklyn-based rapper, born Dante Terrell Smith, rose through hip-hop’s underground in the late ’90s, breaking ranks with the commercially powerful gangsta idiom to revive the socially conscious approach popularized earlier by Arrested Development, De La Soul and KRS-One.

His 1998 collaboration with Kweli, the hip-hoppers’ self-titled Black Star, and 1999 solo debut Black on Both Sides, proved hugely influential.

His rap output grew erratic as his focus shifted to Hollywood, where he’s built an impressive résumé, earning praise alongside A-listers in such mainstream fare as The Italian Job, The Woodsman and Monster’s Ball. He co-starred with Bruce Willis in 16 Blocks and with Jack Black in Be Kind Rewind and earned Emmy and Golden Globe nods for HBO’s Something the Lord Made. He portrayed Chuck Berry in Cadillac Records.

Mos Def, who embraces the Hollywood establishment but rejects the music industry machinery, “is kind of an enigma, and he’s been on an unconventional path,” says Elliott Wilson, founder of hip-hop news site and author of the upcoming Jay-Z biography, Soul of a Hustler. “I haven’t loved everything he put out, and there’s sometimes a lack of dedication to music when he uses other avenues to express himself. He’s talented but hasn’t completely lived up to his promise in hip-hop.

“He’s a very intelligent dude, smarter than the average rapper,” Wilson says. “He still has a core following that’s excited to see where he’s going musically. Kanye West was a product of Black Star, and that school of socially aware, uncompromising rap also influenced T.I. and Lil Wayne.”

Not afraid to speak his mind
Don’t underestimate Mos Def’s “everyday Joe” appeal, says Billboard senior editor Gail Mitchell.

“There’s an earnestness and authenticity that translate to his rapping and movie roles,” she says. “He’s an underground favorite who’s never tried to be anyone but who he is. And with everything that’s going on in the world, there’s a climate for his music now. Folks want realness, not doomsday stuff, but messages that make you think. Even Eminem is getting introspective.”

A frequent firecracker on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher, Mos Def doesn’t duck soapboxes. He carps with wit and invective about pet issues from post-Katrina New Orleans (”It’s unconscionable for that reality to persist”) to conspiracy theories labeling 9/11 an inside job (”I’m a New Yorker and it just doesn’t feel right”).

Distrustful of media, he has faith in music’s power to illuminate and educate, but not with the slap of a ruler.

“At the very least, music has to make people feel good, especially during tough times,” he says. “Good art provides people with a vocabulary about things they can’t articulate. So yeah, put something useful in there. It can be vulgar, provocative, dark; a lot of things in life are.”

The Ecstatic flirts with modern studio tools and machined beats, which Mos Def embraces, but he has yet to get an iPod, confessing he’s both geek and phobic when it comes to technology.

“It’s a mix of curiosity, fascination, respect and bewilderment,” he says. “Twitter freaks me out. You have followers? It feels so obsessive and proprietary. It has great applications, and it’s effective, I get it. But ‘I did something, I did something else, I’m at it again.’ Why?

“I’m still getting over YouTube, people. These breakthroughs are coming at such velocity that before you get your sea legs, there’s another wave hitting you.”

With The Ecstatic complete, Mos Def is pondering movie offers. Recent screwball caper Next Day Air didn’t triumph, but he has higher hopes for Toussaint, a biopic about Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture, to be directed by Danny Glover and co-starring Wesley Snipes and Don Cheadle.

“It’s hard to take Hollywood too seriously,” Mos Def says. “If you can turn a dollar and sleep at night, then cool. Whether a movie sinks or swims, you want to have a decent experience, so you go for something that at least is trying to be good.”

He refuses to let regrets or resentments cloud his sanguine demeanor. Pressed to identify buzz kills, he says, “Oppression. Leaders misusing power to enslave and murder.”

Anything else?

He laughs. “I like peace and love. When people get too aggro, I’m like, really? Do you have to be hollering? I’m not shy about heated debate or passionate discourse, but when people get crazy or rude, that’s a buzz kill. There’s got to be a better code of conduct, some basic etiquette.”

Fidel suddenly pipes up. “Can we go to the other pool?”

Mos Def pulls him closer. “Not yet. I’m still working.”

Fidel frowns. “Dada, can we go to the beach tomorrow?”

Mos Def flashes a broad smile and says, “My life is awesome.”

USA Today

Added by: Watcher, 17/Jun/24 | Comments: 0
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