Folks love to hate Mos Def.
Now known as Yasiin Bey, the Brooklyn MC has never been able to live up to the standard he set with his 1999 debut, Black on Both Sides. Since his 2004 sophomore album The New Danger, the same people that lifted Mos (I’m gonna call him that so you don’t get confused) up to be a voice of his generation have used the same passion to tear him down.
Some say it’s because of the spotty quality of his work since his classic debut. Some say it’s because his nonchalant approach to his career, letting years go by between full releases, sometimes between any kind of release at all, and not caring about promoting them. Others lambast Mos’ personal life for not adhering to the tenets he pushes in many of his lyrics. Some think he’s annoying when he sings.
I’ll admit that at different points in time I have subscribed to all of the above. Recently though, I find myself valuing Mos as an artist more than ever. At 38, he is one of the few aging MCs that I believe has improved and adapted with time rather than retract and flatten. As someone who spends a good amount of time putting words together, Mos’ prowess as a writer is impressive to the point I would opine he’s improved over the years. He takes chances, he’s not afraid to try new things. His 2009 LP The Ecstatic was, to me, as great as his debut.
I also got a chance to watch him perform every night of his Ecstatic tour in 2009 as part of the tour staff and I must say as a performer, Mos is dynamic. Every night he would perform a combination of old and new tunes, play the drums while rapping along, cleverly weave original samples with the tunes that interpolated them, and he never forgot to include a lengthy tribute to Michael Jackson (MJ had just passed a few months earlier.) This from an MC that many claim didn’t care about his fans or rapping anymore. Riiight.
He’s definitely not for everyone and he doesn’t pretend to be. His series of covers of mainstream rap tunes, by the name of Top 40 Underdog, began with a cover of “Niggas In Paris” turning into “Niggas In Poorest,” now has its most recent addition with “I Don’t Like 2.0,” his take on the popular Chief Keef tune. He dons an overly aggressive delivery to, you guessed it, run down a laundry list of things he doesn’t like, which include: white supremacy, high rents and low wages, wars created by old white men that are fought by poor young folks of color and rappers with no shirts, sporting stretch marks, pimples and back hair. I think you probably get the idea.
Everything Mos says, does or releases instantly gets the magnifying glass inspection by a certain cross-section of hip-hop. He’s either not doing anything new or trying to ride a new trend, he’s rapping over beats Madlib already released or he’s not picking good production, he’s either too conscious or going against his own image. Mos can’t win for losing but luckily for some, he doesn’t seem to give a shit.