By Raymond Fiore
October 29, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

EW reviews new albums by Mos Def and friends

Even the slightest insinuation that Mos Def could lose his place in the hip-hop firmament would have been dismissed as mere hater-ism just a few years ago. But not anymore. On his sophomore solo effort, The New Danger, the mighty Mos finally falters with a mishmash of mightily uneven demo-quality tracks. It’s hard to believe that this is what die-hard fans (this writer included) who hail 1999’s Black on Both Sides as a colorful, conscious-rap masterpiece waited five years for.

Sadder still because you’d be hard-pressed to find a more charismatic MC than Mos Def. He’s at his best here rhyming over funky-fresh throwbacks like ”Close Edge,” but he overreaches when he postures as an authentic blues singer (” Bedstuy Parade”), Prince-ly crooner (”Beggar”), and ghetto-rock god (”Freaky Black”). It’s easy to respect his restless artistic spirit, but it doesn’t make swallowing his undercooked ambition any easier.

What is easier to swallow are two Mos-related family side projects, Medina Green and UTD. Medina Green, a loose crew ruled primarily by Mos’ brother DCQ, built their names in mixtape circles with their impressive boho street tracks. On U-Know the Flex — a compilation of some of those songs, plus some new cuts — Mos Def endows ”Excellence” with fire-spitting fury, while DCQ’s high-pitched punch highlights the orchestral tension of ”Pump da Pump.” Mos’ brother also appears on UTD’s never-released 1994 LP, Manifest Destiny, together with Mos and their thunderbolt-slinging sis Ces. Crunching, jazzy beats and agile flows position the group somewhere between Digable Planets and the Fugees. Given Mos’ new material, these two consistently fly albums are well-timed consolation prizes.

Danger: C+
Flex: B+
Destiny: B+