TRUE MAGIC

-- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:42 AM ET


Mos Def
True Magic
(Goodtree-Geffen/Universal)

One look at True Magic will tell you that Mos Def has nothing to hide up his sleeve. In a rap game that seldom believes that less can be more, the Brooklyn rapper has issued a disc that embraces that notion -- literally, figuratively and even conceptually.

Def's third solo album arrives in the simplest of packages: A clear plastic case with no cover art, no booklet, no lyrics, no credits, no pictures, no nothing. Basically, there's nothing between you and the music. As Mos explains: "You can build yourself up by just turning things down." And turn things down he does.

This 14-track set is every bit as stark and minimalist as its packaging. The grooves are mostly understated, spacious and underproduced, leaning more toward reggae or old-school soul than contemporary hip-hop.

Reportedly, one of these cuts was produced by Pharrell; it's rumoured Kanye may have done another. If so, they've reined in their usual flamboyance for Mos -- listening to True Magic, you can't spot any obvious production trademarks or heavyweight guest stars, and only a few instantly identifiable samples (many songs seem to feature a live band). Even Mos's spindly, drawled vocals are quiet and unprepossessing.

He's not barking or boasting like other rappers. And for the most part, he's pushed back in the mix, forcing you to cock an ear to keep up with his speedy delivery and smooth flow. It's worth the effort -- Mos may speak softly, but he carries a big stick here. "Homey, I ain't no joke," he says, and he's good as his word.

The Katrina-themed Dollar Day blasts everyone from Bush to Bono over a revamped Juvenile groove; the drug-oriented Crime & Medicine suggests that "the national pastime is victimless crime"; Murder of a Teenage Life decries street violence; Thug is a Drug blasts the romantic gangsta stereotypes; Perfect Timing finds him angrily demanding to knowing, "Who shot Biggie, Pac and Jam Master Jay?"

You want bling and bragging and over-the-top antics and excess? Look somewhere else. Mos Def doesn't need any of that to work his Magic.

Track Listing:

1. True Magic
2. Undeniable
3. U R the One
4. Thug Is a Drug
5. Crime & Medicine
6. Ha
7. Dollar Day
8. Napoleon Dynamite
9. There Is a Way
10. Sun, Moon, Stars
11. Murder of a Teenage Life
12. Fake Bonanza
13. Perfect Timing
14. Lifetime


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