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Mos Def with the Hot 8 Brass Band 

Saturday at Howlin' Wolf

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"There has to be a change," Mos Def opens his 2009 return to form The Ecstatic (Downtown), "and the only way it's going to be built is with extreme methods." Strong words — except they aren't Mos Def's. It's Malcolm X, excerpted from a 1964 speech to the Oxford Union about what he termed a "miserable condition," only slightly less-polite verbiage than is necessary to describe the Brooklyn-born rapper-turned-actor's off-screen direction in recent years. After putting Rawkus Records on the hip-hop map in the late '90s, releasing back-to-back classics in 1998's Black Star (with Talib Kweli) and 1999 solo debut Black on Both Sides, Mos spent the next decade throwing musical darts: 2004 big-band experiment The New Danger and 2006's tossed-off True Magic contained too little magic and almost no danger. The stakes couldn't have been lower for The Ecstatic, which makes its poetry-slam streams of consciousness — backed by a worldly, Bollywood-to-baile-funk soundtrack courtesy of producers Madlib, the Neptunes and the late J Dilla — all the more exciting. "Auditorium" drapes Madvillain spy strings over a songbird chorus and a duvet-soft verse from Slick Rick; "History" brings back Kweli for a tag-team soul tromp, rekindling rumors of a Black Star reunion; and "Quiet Dog" drops everything but percussion and handclaps, as if bowing in reverence to a long-lost, lockstep guru. Tickets $38.50. — Noah Bonaparte Pais

April 30

Mos Def with the Hot 8 Brass Band

10 p.m. Saturday

Howlin' Wolf, 907 S. Peters St., 522-9653; www.thehowlinwolf.com

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