Mos Def's calling card is pretty straightforward: he's the cool, smooth spiritual muse of conscious hip-hop. At least, that's what critics saw in his debut solo album, Black on Both Sides. Here are some of the reviews:
"Mos isn't so much politically correct as politically infallible, each of his lyrics dripping with realism and sanity." (NME)
"The man does it all-- addressing serious socio-political issues while remaining positive and affirmative from start to finish." (Pitchfork)
"The underground presumption that something is wrong with hip-hop is controversial enough in these heady times of platinum sales, but Def's answer is the real kicker: a sweeping manifesto of unconditional love for self, Black history, the Black community, his beloved Brooklyn, and especially hip-hop culture." (The Village Voice)
"Mathematics" fits Mos Def's critical profile perfectly: the track is thoughtful, serious and positive, not to mention clever enough to keep the listener working to follow him everywhere he takes us. It wasn't even the most critically noted song on the album: "Ms. Fat Booty" and "Rock N' Roll" all garnered plenty more praise. "New World Water," a song about water, racism, and the environment, impressed critics with brainy lines like "Four carbons and monoxide / Got the fish lookin' cockeyed." But here at Shmoop, we couldn't resist Mos Def's melding of history, poetry, economics, and, of course, mathematics.
Black On Both Sides followed up Mos Def's acclaimed 1998 collaboration with Talib Kweli as Black Star, and he has since put out three more solo albums. They have been received with mixed reviews but never compromised Mos Def's image as an MC who leans on his word-smarts and talent, and steers almost completely clear of shallow subject matter and posturing. His fourth solo album, The Ecstatic (2009) earned him two Grammy nominations and a revival of adoring reviews.