The Ecstatic

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The Ecstatic
Virginia Beach)
Mos Def
True Magic
The Ecstatic
December 99th
Singles from The Ecstatic
  1. "Life in Marvelous Times"
    Released: November 4, 2008
  2. "Quiet Dog Bite Hard"
    Released: January 13, 2009
  3. "Casa Bey"
    Released: May 26, 2009

The Ecstatic is the fourth studio

Oh No, and Madlib, with the latter two reusing instrumentals they had produced on Stones Throw Records. The work of Stones Throw rapper MF Doom was also cited by Mos Def as an influence, while singer Georgia Anne Muldrow, formerly of the record label, performed as one of the album's few guest vocalists, along with rappers Slick Rick and Talib Kweli

Described by music journalists as a

Latin, and Middle Eastern music. Mos Def titled the album after one of his favorite novels, Victor LaValle's The Ecstatic (2002), believing its titular phrase evoked his singular musical vision. For the album's front cover, a still from Charles Burnett's 1978 film Killer of Sheep
was reproduced in a red tint.

The Ecstatic charted at number nine on the Billboard 200 in its first week of release and eventually sold 168,000 copies. Its sales benefited from its presence on Internet blogs and the release of a T-shirt illustrating the record's packaging alongside a label printed with a code redeemable for a free download of the album. To further support the album, Mos Def embarked on an international tour with concerts in North America, Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom between August 2009 and April 2010. As his DJ on the tour, Preservation began to develop remixes of the album's songs, which he later released on the remix album The REcstatic in 2013.

A widespread critical success, The Ecstatic was viewed as a return to form for Mos Def and one of the best albums from 2009, with reviewers applauding its exuberant musical feel, adventurous creative range, and shrewd lyrical performances. Some publications ranked it among the greatest albums of the 2000s decade, including The Times at number 30. However, it struggled to reach mainstream audiences beyond Mos Def's fan base and led the already disillusioned rapper further away from the music industry, resulting in less recorded work from him over subsequent years.


By the mid-2000s, Mos Def had established himself as one of

aspect of the hip hop industry and elucidated his artistic goals at the time:

You have to get busy. There are so many things ... I can't control what people think. I'm not trying to manipulate people's thoughts or sentiments. I write all the time. You have to experience life, make observations, ask questions ... I come to uplift the people. It doesn't have to be fashionable. I don't mind being black. I'm black out loud. It's more than the people that they are, it's the condition that they represent. I don't hate nobody. I hate certain conditions that are inflicted upon the people—and they're helpless with it. To me the job of an artist is to provide a useful and intelligent vocabulary for the world to be able to articulate feelings they experience every day.[4]

After his tenure with Geffen ended, Mos Def signed a record deal with the independent label Downtown Records and proceeded to record The Ecstatic as his first album for the label.[5]

Recording and production

A man holding a microphone, dressed in jeans, white dress shirt and tie, shown from the side
Mos Def in 2008

Mos Def recorded most of the album in sessions at the

Oh No, Madlib, and Preservation, who previously produced some of True Magic's songs. For The Ecstatic, Oh No reused some of his productions from his 2007 album Dr. No's Oxperiment, while Madlib incorporated samples from him Beat Konducta in India (2007) record. For "Life in Marvelous Times", Mr. Flash reused the beat from "Champions" – his 2006 collaboration with the French hip hop group TTC – while "History" used a beat produced by J Dilla before his death.[7]

With Preservation, Mos Def produced "Casa Bey" after a 2006 trip to

Trugoy for the song, but they all found it too difficult to rap over the instrumental.[4]

The recording sessions featured collaborations with singer Georgia Anne Muldrow and rappers Slick Rick and Talib Kweli – Mos Def's partner in the rap duo Black Star.[10] Muldrow sang and played piano on "Roses", which she originally wrote and recorded in 2008 for her album Umsindo (2009). She said Mos Def "borrowed" the song for The Ecstatic after they met through a mutual friend. "They came over one day and started playing 'Roses.' He was singing the song and knew it. He said 'I wanna grab that.' I said, 'Man, I already got this as a single'. He just wanted that song. He snatched it up real quick", she recalled in laughter.[11]

Along with Madlib, Oh No, and J Dilla, Muldrow had been an affiliate of

club songs. "No disrespect to [the club]".[14]

Music and lyrics

The Ecstatic covers an international range of styles in a very loose and extemporaneous manner, held together by what Rabin describes as "a lyrical and sonic fascination with life beyond the Western World".

vamps during his raps.[22] Along with his singing, the often sample-based music is unconventional in its use of what Preservation calls unusual time signatures and "awkward" breakdowns.[23]

Operation Iraqi Freedom, April 2003. The album features criticism of the Iraq War.[24]

According to

minority groups.[27] Mos Def incorporates several Islamic references throughout the album, including samples of American Muslim activist Malcolm X, Turkish protest singer Selda Bağcan, and an Arab-language scene from the 1966 film The Battle of Algiers; additionally, the track "Wahid" is titled after the Arabic word for "oneness".[28]

As on Mos Def's other albums, he speaks a dedication to God in Arabic ("Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem") at the start of The Ecstatic. This leads into "Supermagic" and its opening sample of Malcolm X's 1964 speech at

Consequence of Sound believes the speech introduces "a political album encompassing global beats and viewpoints".[31] According to The Washington Post critic Allison Stewart, Mos Def seems equally interested in the Obama-era zeitgeist as in accounts of the past, such as the early-1980s Bedford–Stuyvesant setting of "Life in Marvelous Times".[18] Young deems the song anthemic for "a seemingly paradoxical age that routinely sees events such as a Black man being elected president of a nation wallowing in racial inequality".[31] From Christgau's perspective, Mos Def offers a credo in the lyrics: "More of less than ever before / It's just too much more for your mind to absorb / It's scary like hell, but there's no doubt / We can't be alive in no time but now".[17]

Throughout The Ecstatic, Mos Def alternates between what

Afrocentric themes on "Revelations" and compares love to a gunfight on "Pistola". On "Roses", Muldrow sings nature-friendly lyrics about drawing flowers in times of sadness rather than plucking them from the ground. "Roses is about creativity and human capacity", she explains. "A lot of times Western society makes [women] base our sense of worth on 'diamonds are forever' or 'a dozen roses' and that's how you prove your love to somebody … but you receive so many gifts and still feel empty. So draw them and let the roses come from inside."[11]

Title and packaging

Moorish Science Temple
Conclave; the photo was used for the album's back cover.

The Ecstatic was titled after Victor LaValle's 2002 dark humor novel.[34] One of Mos Def's favorite novels, it was written about an overweight college dropout who fell into mental illness while living with his eccentric family in Queens, New York.[35] According to Mos Def, the phrase "the ecstatic" was "used in the 17th and 18th centuries to describe people who were either mad or divinely inspired and consequently dismissed as kooks".[34] The phrase resonated with him, as he believed no one else in hip hop had ever recorded an album like The Ecstatic. "I feel like I was the only person who was capable of making this type of music in this type of way", he claimed. "I don't rap like nobody, I don't try to sound like nobody."[36] He said "the ecstatic" also refers to "a type of devotional energy, an impossible dream that becomes reality but is discredited before it's realized. The airplane, a nutty idea. The telephone, the Internet. People who envisioned those were considered radical or extreme."[34]

The Ecstatic was packaged with few

Moorish Science Temple gathering in Chicago was used, which Daulatzai interpreted as another element of Mos Def's "Pan-Islamic mashup" on the album.[28]

Marketing and sales

Mos Def performing at the New Parish in Oakland, October 2009

The Ecstatic was released by Downtown on June 9, 2009.[40] In its first week, the album sold 39,000 copies and debuted at number nine on the Billboard 200, becoming the second record of Mos Def's career to reach the top 10 on the chart.[41] The following week, he became the first recording artist to endorse the Original Music Tee, a T-shirt featuring the album cover on the front, the track listing on the back, and a tag with a code to download an MP3 copy of the record.[42] The marketing strategy led to enough sales that Billboard factored the T-shirts as album units on the magazine's music charts.[43] The Ecstatic also benefited from the number of mentions it received on Internet blog posts, which peaked during the week of June 29.[44] The album reached 168,000 copies sold in March 2014.[45]

Three singles were released to promote the album: "Life in Marvelous Times" on November 4, 2008; "Quiet Dog Bite Hard" on January 13, 2009; and "Casa Bey" on May 26.[46] According to Charles Aaron, "Life in Marvelous Times" was the "most powerful and accessible song" Mos Def had ever recorded, but it could not even manage to receive airplay on radio stations in his native New York. "If [it] can't get on the radio, then I don't need to be on the radio", the rapper said in August, expressing a wavering interest in reaching mainstream audiences.[47]

Mos Def supported the album further with an international tour, which began its North American leg in early August 2009. This stretch of concerts spanned a number of US and Canadian cities, including Chicago, Miami, Washington D.C., Miami, Portland, Calgary, and Vancouver. Jay Electronica performed as his opening act, and certain shows were co-headlined with Kweli and singer Erykah Badu.[48] The leg concluded on October 3 with an evening performance slot at the Austin City Limits Music Festival.[49] Mos Def continued touring into the following year, playing a series of concerts in Japan during late 2009, which were documented in an episode of the Current TV series Embedded. This was followed by his first headlining tour of Australia in January 2010 and a short series of April concerts in the United Kingdom.[50]

Critical reception

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Review scores
Entertainment WeeklyB+[52]
The Guardian[33]
The Irish Times[53]
MSN Music (Consumer Guide)A[17]
Rolling Stone[54]
The Times[56]
USA Today[57]

The Ecstatic was met with widespread critical acclaim.[40] After two poorly received records by Mos Def, it was viewed by critics as a return to the form of his 1999 debut album Black on Both Sides, earning some of the best reviews of his career.[58] At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from professional publications, The Ecstatic received an average score of 81, based on 28 reviews.[40] Aggregator AnyDecentMusic? gave it 7.7 out of 10, based on their assessment of the critical consensus.[51]

In The New Yorker, The Ecstatic was hailed as Mos Def's "most conceptually knotty and ambitious work", while Aaron wrote in Spin that the "internationalist return to form" is also "perhaps his liveliest work".[59] For The Irish Times, Jim Carroll said the rapper has not performed this engagingly or skillfully since his career beginnings, highlighting especially "Supermagic" and "Life in Marvelous Times".[53] Mick Middles from The Quietus appraised it as "the joyful sound of a rampant artist, unrestrained by expectation or commercialism", with free-flowing music that escapes the boundaries his previous albums had merely pushed.[60] Ben Thompson, in The Observer, believed the diverse range of samples make it "a crate-digger's wet dream" and "a thrillingly accessible demonstration of hip-hop's limitless creative possibilities" to a layperson.[19] Writing for MSN Music, Christgau felt the songs are "devoid of hooks but full of sounds you want to hear again", along with "thoughtfully slurred" yet intelligible lyrics by Mos Def, whose creative vision warrants the introductory Malcolm X sample.[17] In the opinion of Time's Josh Tyrangiel, his political meditations may not appeal to conservatives but are rich in "the rhythm, exuberance and wit Mos Def showed on his early records".[61] Steve Jones of USA Today said his reflections on politics, love, religion, and societal conditions are full of insight and sincerity while calling the album his strongest effort.[57]

Some reviewers were less impressed. Rolling Stone critic Christian Hoard found the quality of the songs inconsistent, while Slant Magazine's Eric Henderson claimed much of the music lacks song structure and "careen[s] wildly, free from the constraints of chorus and verse".[62] Margaret Wappler evaluated the record with qualified praise in the Los Angeles Times, saying it "mostly lives up to its giddy name" but wanes occasionally while the artful samples may challenge listeners at first.[63]

At the end of 2009, The Ecstatic was named one of the year's 10 best albums.

Rhapsody and Rock's Backpages, respectively.[79][80] The Ecstatic also earned Mos Def nominations for the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards (2010) in the categories of Best Rap Album and Best Rap Solo Performance (for "Casa Bey").[81] However, he lost in both categories to Eminem's Relapse (2009) and Jay-Z's "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)" (2009), respectively.[13]

Photo exhibition

Between January 30 and February 6, 2010, the HVW8 Art & Design Gallery in Los Angeles held an exclusive one-week exhibition titled "Mos Def: Ecstatic Moments – Photographs". It showcased a collection of photos taken by Cognito – a longtime hip hop documentarian and colleague of Mos Def – capturing the rapper during the two years spent making and promoting The Ecstatic. Included in the exhibition were

candid photographs of him in the studio with the album's producers, and photos of his experiences visiting and touring locations around the world, including the Cape of Good Hope and São Paulo. A series of "posse shots" taken at the end of concerts from the American tour were also displayed, showing the rapper with Jay Electronica, Kweli, Badu, and musician Shuggie Otis, who made an unexpected appearance during the tour.[64]

The timing of the exhibition was meant to capitalize on Mos Def's two nominations for the Grammy Awards, which were being held that week. "I thought it was a perfect time to honor his presence while he's here", Cognito explained. "We've had a lot of our greats pass away in the past couple of years, be it Dilla or Bataan [sic], or whoever, and now everybody wants to talk 'Dilla Dilla Dilla' or whatever, but you weren't saying that while he was alive. Let's praise our heroes while they're alive."[82]

Remix album

A man wearing eyeglasses, a beanie, scarf, and black sweatshirt, looking down at a set of turntables and other DJ equipment
Preservation in 2007

While on tour as Mos Def's in-concert DJ, Preservation began to remix some of The Ecstatic's songs for their live routine. He challenged himself to remix the rest of the album as The REcstatic, taking more than a year and working with Jan Fairchild – the original record's mixing engineer.[83] Preservation revisited sources for the original beats to find similar recordings that would correspond to each song's particular aesthetic while preserving Mos Def's vocals for the remixes.[84] He wanted them to be sample-based and consistent in key, pitch, and tone to the original album, which he found difficult to achieve because of its unorthodox instrumentals and singing. "It's the result of countless hours of digging through records to sample", he recalled. "Constructing the beat, wrapping it around the vocal, adjusting the tempo, and so on".[84] "Black Fantastic" – an outtake produced by Minnesota during The Ecstatic's recording – replaced "Casa Bey" in the final track listing, as Preservation had found the tempo and structure of the original song too difficult to make a satisfactory remix.[23]

The REcstatic was released as a free download on June 12, 2013, by Preservation's

imprint label, Mon Dieu Music.[23] Reviewing the remix album in Tiny Mix Tapes, Samuel Diamond said the rapturous energy of the original record was given a "slightly rougher texture" on what he deemed "a respectful contribution to the canon of remix-based art, something that can be said for very few modern rap 'remixes'".[85]

Aftermath and legacy

Despite The Ecstatic's success with fans and critics, Mos Def remained disillusioned with the music industry and "moved on creatively", according to Yardbarker journalist Evan Sawdey.[87] Changing his name to Yasiin Bey, the rapper recorded sporadically during the 2010s, appearing on songs by other hip hop artists such as ASAP Rocky, Ski Beatz, Currensy, and Kanye West.[88] Meanwhile, he received media coverage for largely non-musical ventures and incidents, including a torture reenactment filmed in protest of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and an illegal residence in Cape Town, South Africa, where he was detained for almost one year after trying to leave the country using a World Passport.[86] In 2013, Beats Per Minute named The Ecstatic as the 112th best album of the past five years.[89]

In 2015, the rapper went to London for recording sessions that would produce his next album Negus, using raps he had written during the previous few years.[90] The following year, he announced on West's website that he was retiring from both the music and film industries, although he promised a few more collaborative recordings and one more solo album.[86] Despite the 2016 Ferrari Sheppard collaboration December 99th, Albumism writer Jesse Ducker regards The Ecstatic as his "last hurrah" and "the last album I acknowledge that he released", as well as a reminder "that when [he] gives a shit, he's still as good as anyone at recording music." Ducker adds that its music should have won both Grammy Awards for which it was nominated in 2010.[13]

After private presentations at art fairs in Morocco, Dubai, and Hong Kong, the rapper's next work Negus in Natural Person (or simply Negus) premiered to the public on November 15, 2019, as a "

listening installation" at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. Billed as an homage to public figures who "led noble lives" such as Prince Alemayehu, Henrietta Lacks, and Nipsey Hussle, the exhibit was open for 10 weeks and featured the 28-minute musical album playable with on-ear wireless headphones given to attendees, alongside a visual artwork installation designed by the rapper, José Parlá, Julie Mehretu, and Ala Ebtekar. However, the album went unreleased outside of the exhibit, which itself was largely ignored by the hip-hop community.[86] That same month, Vibe reported that The Ecstatic had been withdrawn from streaming services. "The ownership of that album has come out of the hands of the corporation that owned it, previously. That's why it's not there anymore", the rapper explained. "But there's still opportunities for people to hear it in other mediums, and the team is putting those things together."[90]

Track listing

Credits are adapted from

The Ecstatic track listing
Dante Smith, Michael Jackson
Oh No2:32
2."Twilite Speedball"Smith, Chad HugoThe Neptunes, Mos Def3:02
3."Auditorium" (featuring Slick Rick)Smith, Otis Jackson Jr., Richard WaltersMadlib, Mos Def4:34
4."Wahid"Smith, O. JacksonMadlib1:39
5."Priority"Smith, Jean DavalPreservation1:22
6."Quiet Dog Bite Hard"Smith, DavalPreservation2:57
7."Life in Marvelous Times"Smith, Gilles BousquetMr. Flash3:41
8."The Embassy"Smith, Bousquet, Ihsan al MunzerMr. Flash, Mos Def2:45
9."No Hay Nada Mas"Smith, DavalPreservation1:42
10."Pistola"Smith, M. Jackson, Anthony HesterOh No3:02
11."Pretty Dancer"Smith, O. JacksonMadlib3:31
12."Workers Comp."Smith, Bousquet, Marvin GayeMr. Flash2:02
13."Revelations"Smith, O. Jackson, Michael DrakeMadlib2:03
14."Roses" (featuring Georgia Anne Muldrow)Smith, Georgia Anne MuldrowGeorgia Anne Muldrow3:41
15."History" (featuring Talib Kweli)Smith, James Yancey, Talib K. Greene, Zekkariyas, Mary Wells WomackJ Dilla2:21
16."Casa Bey"Smith, Eduardo LoboPreservation, Mos Def[nb 2]4:32

Sample credits


Credits are adapted from

Downtown Music.[6]


Weekly charts

Chart performance for The Ecstatic
Chart (2009) Peak
Australian Albums (ARIA)[92] 91
Canadian Albums (Billboard)[32] 24
French Albums (
Swiss Albums (Schweizer Hitparade)[93] 90
US Billboard 200[32] 9
US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums (Billboard)[32] 5

Year-end charts

2009 year-end chart performance for The Ecstatic
Chart (2009) Position
US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums (Billboard)[94] 98

See also


  1. ^ According to Nate Patrin of Pitchfork, it is rumored that Mos Def was in South America at the time scouting shooting locations for The Brazilian Job – the purported sequel to the 2003 film The Italian Job (in which he had starred) – "before it got caught up in development hell".[9]
  2. ^ No producers are listed for "Casa Bey" in the official album credits, although DJBooth reported that Preservation and Mos Def had produced the song.[91]


  1. ^ Sundaresan 2020; Sawdey 2021.
  2. ^ Samuel 2009; Huff 2009.
  3. ^ Huff 2009.
  4. ^ a b Anon. 2009a.
  5. ^ Samuel 2009; Sundaresan 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Anon.(f) n.d.
  7. ^ a b c d Patrin 2009b.
  8. ^ a b Spadine 2009.
  9. ^ Patrin 2009a.
  10. ^ Anon.(h) n.d.; Jones 2009.
  11. ^ a b Anon. 2009b.
  12. ^ Rabin 2009.
  13. ^ a b c Ducker 2019.
  14. ^ Anon. 2009a; Gundersen 2009.
  15. ^ Slavik 2009.
  16. ^ Patrin 2009b; Rabin 2009.
  17. ^ a b c d Christgau 2009.
  18. ^ a b Stewart 2009.
  19. ^ a b Thompson 2009.
  20. ^ Kot 2009; Patrin 2009b; Kellman n.d..
  21. ^ Kot 2009; Patrin 2009b; Stewart 2009.
  22. ^ Kot 2009; Patrin 2009b.
  23. ^ a b c Balfour 2013.
  24. ^ Iles 2009.
  25. ^ Richman 2009; Faughnder 2009.
  26. ^ Daulatzai 2012, p. 132; Byrne 2009.
  27. ^ Christgau 2009; Byrne 2009; Anon. 2015.
  28. ^ a b Daulatzai 2012, p. 132.
  29. ^ Anon. 2015.
  30. ^ Daulatzai 2012, p. 132; St. John 2009; Patrin 2009b.
  31. ^ a b Young 2009.
  32. ^ a b c d e Kellman n.d.
  33. ^ a b MacInnes 2009.
  34. ^ a b c Gundersen 2009.
  35. ^ Samuel 2009; Gundersen 2009.
  36. ^ Gundersen 2009; Anon. 2009a.
  37. ^ Raible 2009.
  38. ^ Patrin 2009b; Eisinger 2013.
  39. ^ Eisinger 2013.
  40. ^ a b c d Anon.(h) n.d.
  41. ^ Anon.(h) n.d.; Caulfield 2009.
  42. ^ Michaels 2009.
  43. ^ Owsinski 2009, p. 70.
  44. ^ Siehndel et al. 2013, p. 279.
  45. ^ Baker 2014.
  46. ^ Samuel 2008; Anon.(d) n.d.; Anon.(c) n.d..
  47. ^ Aaron 2009, p. 78.
  48. ^ Dantana 2009.
  49. ^ Keyes 2009.
  50. ^ Murray 2010; Maness 2009; Anon. 2010a.
  51. ^ a b Anon.(e) n.d.
  52. ^ Vozick-Levinson 2009.
  53. ^ a b Carroll 2009.
  54. ^ Hoard 2009.
  55. ^ Aaron 2009, p. 80.
  56. ^ Potton 2009.
  57. ^ a b Jones 2009.
  58. ^ Huff 2009; Bronson 2009.
  59. ^ Anon. 2016; Aaron 2009, p. 80
  60. ^ Middles 2009.
  61. ^ Tyrangiel 2009.
  62. ^ Henderson 2009; Hoard 2009.
  63. ^ Wappler 2009.
  64. ^ a b Anon. 2010b.
  65. ^ Anon. 2009c.
  66. ^ Stosuy 2009.
  67. ^ Anon. 2009e.
  68. ^ Anon. 2009d.
  69. ^ Anon. 2009i.
  70. ^ Anon. 2009f.
  71. ^ Anon. 2009g.
  72. ^ Fennessey 2010.
  73. ^ Anon. 2009h.
  74. ^ Anon.(a) n.d.
  75. ^ Diver 2010.
  76. ^ Anon. 2009j.
  77. ^ Christgau 2010.
  78. ^ Anon. 2009l.
  79. ^ Chennault 2009.
  80. ^ Anon. 2009k.
  81. ^ Harling 2009.
  82. ^ Ford 2010.
  83. ^ Balfour 2013; Lamb 2013.
  84. ^ a b Lamb 2013.
  85. ^ Diamond 2013.
  86. ^ a b c d Sundaresan 2020.
  87. ^ Ducker 2019; Sawdey 2021.
  88. ^ Sundaresan 2020; Ducker 2019.
  89. ^ Zercoe 2013.
  90. ^ a b Ketchum III 2019.
  91. ^ Anon.(f) n.d.; Spadine 2009.
  92. ^ Anon.(i) n.d.
  93. ^ a b Anon.(g) n.d.
  94. ^ Anon.(j) n.d.


Further reading

External links