Mos Def Black On Both Sides

Even before last year’s excellent Black Star project with Talib Kweli, via his countless guest appearances, the universally magnetic Mos Def has long threatened to deliver a stunning artistic statement. Black On Both Sides delivers on his promise, ignoring conventional boundaries. His appearance on De La Soul’s Stakes Is High earmarked his smooth delivery and charm for future reference and he continues this familial connection by logically collaborating with Native Tongue alumni, Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Mohammed and vocalist Vinia Mojica. Mojica, who has lent her honeyed voice to De La Soul, Jungle Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest recordings, joins Mos Def on the melodic “Climb,” where he reveals his honest, flawed voice. This voice, of which only brief snatches have previously been heard, gets a full workout on the proto acid-jazz elegance of “Umi Says.” But the primary drawing card is Mos Def’s finely chiselled lyricism. When applied to environmental conspiracies (“New World Water”), racism (“Mr. Nigga”) and the state of hip-hop culture addresses (“Hip Hop”), the results are exceptional. And despite the presence of several producers, Mos Def manages to maintain focus on a larger idea at work. On “Rock’n’Roll” he reasserts in no-holds barred fashion the music’s black origins. And on the three-part suite “Brooklyn,” he rocks over both Roy Ayers’ “We Live In Brooklyn, Baby” and Notorious B.I.G’s “Who Shot Ya.” Throughout, Mos Def exhibits a deep awareness of a black culture, past and present and a determination to expose its scope while forging ahead. Clearly, this is bigger than hip-hop. (Rawkus)