Hip-hop split: Two groups, two (wild) views

Mos Def
The New Danger  (Geffen)

Mobb Deep
America's Nightmare  (Geffen)

The election's coming soon, and to tell you the truth, I'm a little bit nervous. Last week at a friend's going-away party, someone told me with a straight face that if W wins the election, she'll turn to domestic terrorism.

Another friend walked up, and I introduced my politically charged new acquaintance as a soldier for "the cause." She turned sharply and corrected me, claiming she was a warrior, not a soldier.

I immediately understood. There's a major difference between a soldier and a warrior– a soldier follows order regardless of the reasons. A warrior adheres to a strict personal code of ethics and decides for herself what battles to fight.

I can't remember a time when politics stirred up such bellicose notions.

"There's a war going on outside no man is safe from. You can run, but you can't hide" are the first words from Mobb Deep's first single, 1994's "Shook Ones." Mobb Deep has always represented the frustrated, violently oppressed voice of the hip-hop urbanite, subscribing to a "live by the gun, die by the gun" mentality befitting their Queens, New York, pedigree. Their most recent offering, America's Nightmare, continues the gun talk and tales of hood misfortune.

While equally revolutionary, Mos Def connects to something much more cerebral. His debut album arrived at the height of the 2000 hip-hop underground movement, with a more intellectual and boundary-smashing approach. Since then, he has promoted change through dialogue in his various appearances as host of HBO's Def Comedy Jam and as a spokesperson for various youth sponsorship groups.

The cover of Mos Def's current offering, The New Danger, features an up-close shot of Def himself wearing a cloth on his face similar to those sported by Iraqi rebels. That's Mos– always provocative.

Americas Nightmare and The New Danger present as polar opposites– not unlike today's divided social/political climate. Whereas Mobb Deep has always provided the same rugged gangster talk and hard, dark beats present on their current release, Mos Def has reached into his bag of tricks and offered up an album that has more in common with punk, rock, and soul than anything gangster.

Our president stands firm with an "us against the world, kill or be killed" mentality similar to Mobb Deep's; Mos Def's "new danger" is the educated minority with the strength to unite and the know-how to work for change.

America's Nightmare falls on the right along with the disenfranchised inner-city youth who have survived the '80's crack epidemic with a nose for money and a soldier's kill-or-be-killed ethos. The New Danger, on the left, represents a heavily cultured audience who condone violence only as a last resort, preferring to write songs to debate the intellectual, and inclusive music that encompasses a wide cultural base.

Maybe America is living a nightmare because none us know what the new danger really is.

Mos Def