Welcome back to the latest edition of Flashback Friday Flop, a weekly feature in which I examine a hip-hop album from years ago that was considered a flop, either critically or commercially or both, when it was released and see if it has gotten better – or worse – over time.
This week: Mos Def’s The New Danger (2004)
There’s never been a question about the talent of Yasiin Bey, the man formerly known as Mos Def. The dude can rap, sing, act, do comedy, anything.
His choices, however, have not always been so unimpeachable.
He burst onto the scene as one-half of Black Star, bringing consciousness and fun back to a mainstream hip-hop landscape that was transitioning from the jiggy era into its super-hustler period. Mos and Talib Kweli felt like a throwback to the late ’80s/early ’90s when groups like Public Enemy, X-Clan, and even A Tribe Called Quest put knowledge over dollars.
They were part of one of the best rookie classes in history and with the release of his acclaimed solo album, Black on Both Sides, the following year, it looked like Mos would be the torchbearer for a new type of hip-hop that combined the new with the old.
But then he went his own way. Rather than continue on that path like Kweli, he decided to branch out musically, putting together a band called Black Jack Johnson and, after five years of anticipation, releasing an album that was a mess of rap, soul, blues, and rock that often sounded like a collection of outtakes.
Now, with the benefit of hindsight, does The New Danger sound different? Was it unfairly maligned by expectations? Was Mos a visionary who was simply ahead of his time?
Although he always had bars, Mos was never just a rapper. He employed his melodic flow and harmonized on hooks on both Black Star and Black on Both Sides and elsewhere. He did so to great effect, because nowhere on those two stellar albums had he tried to be a real blues rock singer.
The New Danger begins with “Boogie Man Song,” where Mos croons over an angelic backdrop that would perfectly suit Raphael Saadiq (who just happened to co-produced the track). But the smooth, soulful opening is an anomaly in comparison to the rest of the album.
The problem with “Freaky Black Greetings” is not just that it literally sounds like a mashup with hard guitars and drums under a bounce that sounds like something from a Daz Dillinger beat, but also because Mos does not rap or sing, but rather just randomly say a non sequitur about every ten seconds with an echo behind it. If you took a mid-’90s Bad Boy track and took out all of the vocal except for Puff’s ad-libs, this is what it would sound like.
He tries his hand at several different types of music. Listening to “Blue Black Jack,” it’s easy to picture Mos on a porch or at a black honky-tonk in Mississippi, but “The Rape Over,” when he jacks the beat from Jay-Z’s “The Takeover” and uses it to name (or allude to) all of the people that are running – and, in Mos’s opinion, ruining – hip-hop, is a rap song through and through.
Much of the disc, though, finds Mos trying to blend all these different sounds and not being very successful. “Ghetto Rock” is fine he gets closest to finding the sweet spot between rap and rock on “Zimzallabim,” but it still feels like another entry in the Limp Bizkit wing of rap-rock concoctions.
“Sex, Love & Money” is super dope. Over fat jazz-like horns and an exotic flute, Mos puts all of his skills on display, the male (near-) equivalent of Lauryn Hill, his watery flow sliding all over the track.
Unfortunately, it’s one of the few highlights of The New Danger.
Previously in Flashback Friday Flop:
Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, and many more. He has been quoted on Buzzfeed and Deadspin. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.