Mos Def has unfortunately been a bit of a hit or miss figure over the years. His seminal debut “Black on Both Sides” is widely considered one of the best underground hip-hop moments of the late 90s, but his long-awaited follow-up failed to impress fans and critics and the rest of his career remained rather inconsistent. On December 99th—Def’s goodbye record—Mos Def is operating under the name Yasiin Bey, working with Ferrari Sheppard, and seemingly lacking any substantial material. The album drones on with rather similar beats as Bey sings over top in a quasi-Kid Cudi/808s-Kanye style. Bey’s voice is pleasant, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of effort on songwriting as he drawls forward in rambling melodies, occasionally reprising previous material without any notion of structure. Although the work achieves cohesion as the beats flow into one another and Bey maintains a rather similar vocal style, the flow of the album only takes away from the experience as Bey seems to only wish to craft a mood rather than construct a poignant work as he has done in the past.
The first tune on the record essentially summarizes everything that follows. A slow-tempo, heavy beat begins things with a vocal sample before a rather momentous melody comes into play with what seems to be Bey’s hook even though he only repeats “gone, gone, gone.” Lulling verses fail to accomplish much of anything with faux-philosophical lines like “Girls at the playground/they say they like you/do they even like themselves” and “you like yourself too much/fuck what you like.” “Blade in the Pocket” again vaguely approaches philosophy, making some sort of point about the bystanders of a tragedy: “Only god can stop it/All they could do was watch it/Stick to gossip/The view of the department.” His words may have some sort of underlying idea to them, but, like his vocal melodies, they remain far too abstract to achieve any memorability. “Spesh” melts in next around the same tempo, offering little contrast sonically, followed by another lyrical mess on “Local Time:” “we experience yesterday/above all we’ve been blessed today/same as everyday/in a special way.” Although there’s somewhat of a flow to the front-half of the record, nothing specific really sticks out as interesting.
The back-side of the record really just continues much of the same. In fact, the first song, “Seaside Panic Room,” even reiterates the same hook from the first track on the record (gone, gone, gone). Lyrics that exude wisdom, but don’t accomplish much of anything run rampant: “a lot of ways to measure presence/a lot of ways to measure essence” and sonic efforts that don’t do much other than crafting a mood ramble on for far too long. The last song on the record convinces us that its failures are not the fault of Ferrari Sheppard. Bey’s bland vocal styling is absent and Sheppard manages to build a solid instrumental groove over a distant vocal sample, making for a nice epilogue to the work.
As a whole, the project just feels unfocussed. The songs don’t have any real structures and there’s not a whole lot of standout moments. It almost sounds like Bey is just offering some off-the-cuff melodies to match the droning beats of Ferrari Sheppard. Occasionally, Bey even returns to ideas from tracks far back on the record, making it almost sound like the record was thrown together in one sitting. Bey also isn’t really that strong of a singer—as we hear when he attempts to bust out some high notes—so the project lacks a real personality. Even Bey’s lyrics remain far too vague throughout. There’s no major story or narrative making Bey’s attempts at social awareness and philosophy unfulfilled. Obviously, not every song has to tell a story, but successful esoteric artists do enough to get their message across. Run the Jewels, for instance don’t really incorporated an underlying narrative to their album structures, but the mood they craft clearly reacts to the problems facing the United States government and their newest effort clearly advocates for some type of revolution. Bey’s slightly socially aware abstractions here simply don’t match up.
December 99th sounds like a 90s artist making fun of the modern day mumble-singers. Bey’s nonsensical words and rambling melodic ideas fail to muster anything worth listening to deeply and it simply sounds like his isn’t putting in any effort.
Certainly a misfire.