The New Danger
Concept albums resemble angel food cake — neither can be rushed, held down to one flavor or even attempted without the proper tools. Here we have The New Danger, the pinhole in the wall of ghetto that those on the outside can see through. Mos Def knows, tells and inverts the black soul so that any may see inside, and favors those inclined with similar listening skills.
Mos Def has had two of the top five rap albums of the past decade — his own debut, Black on Both Sides, and collaboration on Black Star with Talib Kweli. After years of acting, poetry slams and comedy with Dave Chappelle, the man born Dante Smith has circled around with a serenade in the proportions of Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.
Life is posed as the question, “Are you a person who is black or a black person above all?” Beyond that false racial boundary, Mos Def brings to mind through his mapping of the soul that losing thought and conscience is the titular danger, be it new or be it old. In his experience, it is the individual borne through the ghetto and not the individual born of the ghetto. Like the aforementioned apotheosis of Robert Heinlein’s variegated morals, Mos Def comes to the audience with an exhortation that is no longer commonplace: “I have a dream, and you should as well.”
The New Danger, 18 tracks old, sits upon the forebrain like eggs benedict: Separate like the members of a lonely hearts’ club, rock, blues, and the truest of raps form a sustenance that is available both by chance and as birthright. One’s psyche is one’s center, and it occasionally must be taught new ways to avoid atrophy. Mos Def brings the inner self to the forefront.
“Modern Marvel” lights the pool of forthright knowledge that is the album as a whole, paying tribute to Marvin Gaye and declaiming the ills of the postmodern world. Even as the obsession with keeping it real might come to a head in the contemporary-consumerist hip-hop world, Mos Def comes to us pleading for the primacy of keeping it wise and in the altogether.
Not one to set the stage by himself, Mos Def has the sweetest accompaniment imaginable in the form of his Black Jack Johnson crew, featuring Will Calhoun and Doug Wimbish, formerly the drummer and bassist (respectively) for Living Colour. Others include Bernie Worrell, the oft-sampled keyboardist who was a core member of both Parliament-Funkadelic and the Talking Heads, and Gary Miller, also known as Doctor Know, guitarist for the much missed Rastafarian punk scions Bad Brains.
Interestingly, Mos Def is referring to himself as “Black Dante” (on “The Easy Spell”). He does not appear as a leopard substituting stripes for spots, but as a musician typifying his own gifts as those of one fitted to guide the organ between the ears.
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