Song 316: Mos Def, “Quiet Dog Bite Hard” (2009)

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When The Ecstatic came out in 2009, it was rightly regarded as a return to form by Mos Def (now known as Yasiin Bey), onetime maker of masterpieces whose last few recordings left something to be desired.

But you don’t hear much about The Ecstatic anymore. I don’t know if that’s because Bey’s acting career continues to take up most of his time, or if the consumption speed in pop culture has only increased in the past four years. In any case, it’s worth revisiting.

The Ecstatic is no Black On Both Sides, but what is? Bey doesn’t sound too concerned with matching that album’s dense greatness, and I think that’s what makes it so good. There’s a liberated quality to the album, as if Mos Def freed himself from the pressure of delivering a worthy follow-up. My favorite track from The Ecstatic is “Quiet Dog (Bite Hard),” a fleet-footed but subtle track that showcases Mos Def’s knack not only for rapping and writing but arranging. Sure, the guys over at Preservation helped him with that part, but the way he changes up his flow from the exclamation of “My GOD” to the quiet “simmer down, simmer down, simmer down now” is a great choice.

Hip-hop doesn’t need more “you don’t stop” tracks, but people keep making them anyway. I’m not complaining: as long as songs like “Quiet Dog (Bite Hard)” are the ones continuing the traditions, leaping from rooftop to rooftop like the guy on The Ecstatic‘s cover, it’s a very good thing. And as long as Yasiin Bey maintains the rock, we’ll be in very good hands.

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Song 63: De La Soul (feat. Mos Def), “Big Brother Beat” (1996)

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Man, this is one underrated record. Stakes Is High may be a ways off from Three Feet High and Rising, but what isn’t? And one of De La Soul’s great charms has always been their need for reinvention, which we first saw with De La Soul Is Dead, the album that mocked the trio’s D.A.I.S.Y. Age (“da inner sound, y’all”) debut.

This song is the best track on Stakes Is High, and I think it’s because of its confidence. A song called “Big Brother Beat” better have a good beat, and this one does. It’s not flashy, but it’s sure-footed and, true to the song’s title, seems to be all-knowing, transmitting the De La signal to the five boroughs and beyond.

This song also features the artist formerly known as the mighty Mos Def (he now goes by Yasiin Bey), only a few years away from Black On Both Sides but still, at that time, mainly a Brooklyn concern. So whether this was the intention or not, “Big Brother Beat” is something of a passing of the torch. It’s easy to see what De La Soul saw in Mos Def, as he shares the Native Tongues ethos and fits the group’s laid-back, affable style.