Friday, May 29th, 2009

Mos Def – Casa Bey

Rapper ternt actor ternt rapper again…


Matt Cibula: Mos Def has been amping it up lately on the Internet PR front, talking about how he’ll beat anyone in a battle and such. But all the YouTube beeves in the world can’t cover up the fact that as a rapper he is more of a slam poet, and as a slam poet he’s more of a rapper, and he’s probably better as an actor than either one. This is less of a song than it is a series of rootsier-than-thou signifiers, not my fave equation for ass-kickery.

Chuck Eddy: Magnetic kinetic athletic aesthetic opening has some vim and vigor to it. Jazz-horn parts are somewhat digable. Whole thing is probably really nutritious. I lose interest about a minute in.

Rodney J. Greene: Forty seconds in and this isn’t any more interesting than anything he’s released post-Black on Both Sides. The static breakbeat funk groove feels more like a symbol than a living, breathing thing, fuzzed out enough to signal as gritty, but not so much as to run the risk of disturbing the paintings on the walls or interrupting conversation. Mos Def runs through the same old list of favorite words, hoping he’ll find something more exciting than “athletic” to slide between “magnetic” and “kinetic” if he looks hard enough. This is wack. And then this ridiculous jazz-fusion run smashes the monotony with a wrecking ball. From then on, the track expands and unfolds like a complex piece of origami being taken apart, eventually turning into a sort of cosmic afro-beat. Mos, while never able to subsume his Rawkus-school roots, finds it in himself to at least step beyond the cliched pairings of his opening rap. When the song finally finds that opening groove again, Mos can’t help dissolving it into a solute of organ puffs and careful piano chords. This is how you do corny rap-fusion. Q-Tip can sit the fuck down.

Alfred Soto: Like Q-Tip’s “Gettin’ Up,” this is a track designed to remind us of the artist’s mastery, even if we never doubted it in the first place. (“Magnetically flows the aesthetic,” he tell us. Of course!). Flow intact, intelligence upfront, Mos Def is still a comer. The track is a bit redundant, though, even colorless, which “Gettin’ Up” wasn’t; it sounds like an album track optimistically released as a single.

Anthony Easton: I don’t know enough about hip hop, but it definitely has a swaggering 70s funk undertone, and his flow is sticky, with sharp edges and an autonomy for the self, that alludes to Sun Ra or late Trane.

Martin Kavka: This would be easy to dismiss as Mos Def’s climbing aboard the nu-jazz bandwagon only a decade too late. And he’s trying too hard to be creatively self-aggrandizing here; once the song ends, I’m more impressed by his intelligence than I am by his skills. But I’m a sucker for anything that would sample Edú Lobo’s “Casa Forte,” even Banda Black Rio’s spacey funk/fusion version from 1977.

Frank Kogan: There’s one point where I hear “A black knife fight in the darkness, gorgeous”, but I’m sure that’s wrong. This is as heavy-limbed as a track based on jazz ‘n’ funk samples can get, his voice doggedly trying to roll with the beats.

Martin Skidmore: I like the old fashioned funky backing on this – yes, rather jazz-funky, but not so much that it stops being lively and entertaining, though it does have an everyone-will-fade-this-early ending. The trouble is, Mos Def sounds like a laid-back slow rapper trying to hurry it all up. He’s never going to work on a club record, I don’t think: when he advises us not to stop rocking, he seems more likely to be talking about a rocking chair than rocking out.

Renato Pagnani: At least he sounds like he gives half a shit on this one, although he continues to lapse into his recent habit of simply rattling off adjectives describing his dopeness, a standard fallback for rappers who have forgotten how to rap. Otherwise it’s syllable stockpiling, feel-good metaphysics and lukewarm braggadocio. And to be fair to the guy, the samba jam session he raps over has a lot of abrupt direction changes and detours to deal with, and Mos is probably one of the few rappers who could ride this beat without being bucked off within seconds. But it’s telling that my favourite part is when the Final Fantasy pianos emerge from the din and dance like sunbeams on the ocean as the track fades out.

Additional Scores

Hillary Brown: [5]
Michaelangelo Matos: [7]
Doug Robertson: [6]

8 Responses to “Mos Def – Casa Bey”

  1. Loved every word of Cibula’s blurb except the part where he tried to convince me Mos Def is a good actor. I still haven’t brought myself to listen to this song, though, just like almost anything else he’s recorded in the past 10 years, though.

  2. I never said he was a good actor!

  3. “…simply rattling off adjectives describing his dopeness, a standard fallback for rappers who have forgotten how to rap.”


  4. He is a good actor (“The Woodsman”), although his lack of technique started to grate in “Be Kind, Rewind.”

  5. Well, you said he’s probably a better actor than he is a rapper, which even not being personally hugely reverent of him as an MC can’t help but read as a compliment.

  6. OTM?

  7. On the money.

  8. Ah! Well thanks, my friend. I was listening to Black on Both Sides the other week and the difference from that Mos Def and this one is depressing.