October 4, 2012

Maybe it was Homeboy Sandman reminding me how radically weird “New World Water” felt the first time I heard it. Or possibly was the Danish journalist who recently reminded me that “Niggas in Poorest” was one of the better political songs of the last few years. Maybe it’s just the nostalgia brought on by early on-set senescence. But Mos Def keeps on coming up in my conversational circles lately.

It’s been a decade and a half since Blackstar and a baker’s dozen since Black on Both Sides. By now, we should’ve all gotten over the fact that Mos will never do what we want him to: focus on music and take his place as perhaps the most subversive artist orbiting the mainstream. He may have never said goodbye to Hollywood, but how many other artists of his stature would politely reproach Kanye and Jay for their garish excess? He’s still the fan who knows every word to every MF Doom song. Even if his commitment is shaky, he’s never abandoned his love of music.

That could be why he’s still capable of reminding you of his old brilliance when he wants to. The Ecstatic might not have been as good as some people thought, but it was better than we could’ve expected after Mos’ near-decade long decline. And this Pete Rock remix of his verse from the Robert Glasper Experiment record is another reminder of how vital he can sound when the stars align.

Pete Rock doesn’t do much to the original, basically just adding some bombing to the coat of the airplane. But he does what great remixers do: makes it sound better in a way that wasn’t readily obvious. Mos remains great, still blending singing and rapping in a way that directly refutes Drake’s absurd claim that he invented this shit.

Even if he’s way past his musical prime, this is the motherfucking thanks that Mos Def gets. We still tune in even if he’s mostly tuned out. We’re lucky his radio has a strong signal.

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