In the late '90s, Mos Def could have ruled the world, or at least hip-hop. Now he has other concerns. Somewhere in between filming 16 Blocks, protesting Hurricane Katrina outside the MTV Video Music Awards, and negotiating a slew of child-support payments, Mos managed to get himself in the studio to record his third solo album, True Magic. This muddled concoction too often resembles the overcooked and overwrought mess of sophomore album The New Danger.
It's possible to list on two hands the number of good songs on True Magic; however, it doesn't add up. The album wildly swings between trying too hard and not trying hard enough. Turgid orchestration and a full choir makes "There Is a Way" one of the most uninspiring inspirational jams in recent memory. Mos later sleepwalks through "Perfect Timing," mumbling old Nice & Smooth and Run-DMC lyrics over what sounds like his 83rd rehash of "Umi Says." Katrina-themed "Dollar Day" also lacks quality. Heartfelt dedications are all well and good, but the song can't suck.
Yet there is a lot that's good about True Magic. Songs like "Undeniable," "U R the One," "Sun, Moon, Stars," and "Lifetime" are all outstanding. But amidst the jumble of lackluster production and absence of effort, these superior moments get drowned out. Mos' problems with focus make True Magic an effort in semimediocrity. Hey, he'll always have Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
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