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CD REVIEW

Mos Def reappears with 'True Magic'

There's no cover art, and the only image of it on the Internet is a black disc with his name and face in purple, but the point is that Mos Def's third album is on the Internet, and it's been there a lot longer than the people at Geffen Records would have liked.

The release date for Mos Def's "True Magic" has been all over the calendar -- from November, near the Clipse and Jay-Z releases, to mid-December, around the Nas and Young Jeezy drop dates, to early January and beyond.

And despite a game of checkers (it wasn't smart enough to be chess) between Geffen, which recently released a version of the disc, and savvy Internet users, who began downloading unauthorized versions of the album weeks before the label let it go, the official recording has yet to see the fluorescent lights of a music store, let alone the light of day.

What's on the Web and select shelves pulls from both ends of the wide-ranging spectrum Mos Def set with his first two albums. The lyricism isn't as overwhelming as that on his "Black on Both Sides," but the soul-rock experimentation isn't as deep either. The result is a balanced outing.

Representatives at Press Here Publicity , speaking for Mos Def and Geffen, said the company released the initial version of "True Magic" in limited locations in "retaliation" to the online leak, and that the final version would be released in the spring. By that point, it may not matter.

Though the leaked material has gotten positive feedback on the Web, by letting the fall pass, and then the fourth quarter, the question changes from "When is the Mos Def album dropping?" to "How much longer are people willing to wait?"

In the two years since his last release, "The New Danger," Mos Def somehow managed to lay low without completely leaving the public eye, creating the kind of confusion and anticipation Jay-Z wishes he could have had surrounding his "comeback" album.

With a quick feature on a mixtape with Little Brother, Mos Def maintained his connection to the underground. He rocked shows on West Coast college campuses and made random cameos (see "Talladega Nights") to stay relevant.

His Internet-only, antigovernment, anti-Bush track "Dollar Day" let him vent his post-Katrina frustrations and at the same time remain the earthy, socially aware MC he built his name on being.

And even though it may not have been his intent, he couldn't have asked for better buzz than the one he created when he was arrested for attempting to perform the protest song outside the Radio City Music Hall during the VMAs, then having the video end up on YouTube.

It all combined to give Mos Def hype when he didn't even have a single.

On "True Magic," Mos Def seems to have found a median between his first two albums, switching from the mellow hums and soft piano taps that led off "The New Danger" to a strong boom-bip on the title track of "True Magic." From the first ad-lib -- "Def on the speak/ Epic on the beat" -- the album is more rap than song.

Mos Def hits more than he misses with gritty tracks like "Crime and Medicine," his own version of GZA's "Liquid Swords." Because he recently divorced his wife of 10 years, "U R the One" (maybe a call- out to the love of his life or maybe not) stands out on the 14-track album.

But much like "May-December" from his instant-classic solo debut album, "Black on Both Sides," the highlight of "True Magic" comes near the end, when Mos Def scats over the long and largely instrumental self-produced track "Perfect Timing."

Funny, that seems to be something both he and Geffen are still trying to find.

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