More adventurous but not quite as daring as its predecessor Black on Both Sides, Mos Def’s second studio album The New Dangerdemonstrates the Brooklyn rapper’s eagerness to once again bring together what he defines as black music under the banner of hip hop. And for the most part, he does a pretty decent job at it.
The New Danger continues more or less with the same production aspects heard in Black on Both Sides, but not completely. Where this album departs from its predecessor is in the different musical styles produced by live instrumentation. Musicians on the album include Black Jack Johnson (Mos Def’s side project band, which comprises of Living Colour’s Will Calhoun and Doug Wimbish, Bad Brains’ Dr. Know and Parliament/Funkadelic’s Bernie Worrell) and blues guitarist Shuggie Otis. “Blue Jack Black” (which features Shuggie Otis) is one of the album’s standouts, as hearing Mos Def sing and rap over a straight up blues track is not only refreshing, but pretty darn cool. Black Jack Johnson also play some really sweet rhythm & blues, soul, funk and electronica inspired tracks, but they also delve into hard rock and heavy metal on more than one occasion, where the tempo of which just seemed to jar really badly with Mos Def’s flow. Thankfully these instances occur only a few times in the album, and generally the production is pretty solid, most notably on sample-based tracks such as “The Rape Over”, “Sunshine”, “Modern Marvel” and “Life is Real” (one of my favourite cuts on the album).
Lyrically, Mos Def isn’t quite as sharp as he was in Black on Both Sides, scaling back the politically and socially conscious overtones in favour of greater subtlety, along with a few tracks projecting a more feel-good, chilled vibe. (“The Rape Over”, a scathing critique of hip hop as an industry, is one exception) Vocally, Mos Def manages to adapt to just about every style pulled in on this album (except for the aforementioned hard rock/heavy metal tracks), with his vocal work varying from track to track, even within tracks – “Modern Marvel”, a superb 9-minute tribute to Marvin Gaye, features Mos Def singing, then speaking, followed by rapping (and one of the better verses in the album, too) about and reflecting on some of the social issues raised in the classic What’s Going On. If nothing else, Mos Def’s vocal work on this album just restates his ability as a singer, which never underwhelms.
Although this album does explore some pretty interesting territory sonically (in regards to hip hop, anyway), it just lacks the thematic coherence that was really apparent in Black on Both Sides. The New Danger may have a greater scope and more ambition than Mos Def’s prior work, but the execution doesn’t quite match it.