Before Mos Def made the highly respected Black Star album with Talib Kweli, released his classic solo debut, Black On Both Sides, changed his name to Yasiin Bey and moved out of the country, he was a part of a little known hip-hop trio called Urban Thermo Dynamics aka UTD. Along with Mos Def, UTD consisted of his younger brother, DCQ and younger sister, Ces. As a group, UTD released two 12″ singles on Payday Records back in ’94, but for whatever reason, the trio’s full length debut, Manifest Destiny was shelved and never released. Until 2004, when the independent imprint, Illson Media would finally release Manifest Destiny, a decade after it was recorded (which is why I’m sticking this post in with 1994).
I discovered the album a few years back while shopping for music on Amazon and it popped up as a suggested album to buy. Since I’m a Mos Def Stan, I was eager to hear what he sounded like in his early days as an emcee. The album comes with no liner notes, just a two page book with super generic artwork on the cover and an ad for a Medina Green Mixtape on the inside, which kind of sucks, as I like to know who did what for which song (according to some articles I read in cyber land, Showbiz, Diamond D and J-Swift are responsible for most of the production on the album), but whatever.
World Wide – UTD kicks Manifest Destiny off with a sleepy incomplete sounding instrumental that still manages to sound decent. The first voice you hear is that of Ces who spits a verse, followed by Mos Def, and bringing in the rear is DCQ (whose rhyming tone sounds a lot like his big bother’s). It comes to no surprise that Mos Def spits the strongest verse out of the three. Not a great song, but a decent start to the evening.
Manifest Destiny – The title track recycles the same loop Diamond D used on the “Intro” for Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop (bringing some validity to the speculation that Diamond D produced a large portion of the album), which was a great idea considering it sickness and the fact that no one rapped on Diamond’s version. Each of the siblings spit a verse in the same order as the previous song, and once again Mos sounds the sharpest out of the crew. But the motivational hook might be the strongest bars of the entire song.
Hard Core – This was the second 12″ that UTD released. The trio share tales of violent street episodes and warn the listener to stay alert on these mean streets “before your cap gets peeled”. The dense bass line and eerie horn loop serve as the perfect canvas for UTD’s street theme, and the hook is pretty catchy too.
Victory – UTD uses this one to encourage their people to keep pressing forward in spite of all the obstacles life throws at you. Mos rhymes about being an introvert as a child and gives us early samples of the dope harmonies he would perfect on Black On Both Sides, while Ces spits a solid militant verse and DCQ is left to help with adlibs on the hook. The hard drums, triumphant horn loop and thick bass line sound better with each listen.
Luv It Liv It – This was the B-side to the “Hard Core” single. I didn’t care much for the dry backdrop, which might be more so do to the poor mixing…or is the boring drums? Mighty Mos spits some interesting bars during his verse, including a shot aimed at Run DMC for their image change during the Down With The King era (“I can’t believe how low some of my heroes fell, DMC got baldies now- the hell?”), which made me chuckle a little.
You Could Run – Average at best.
Moon In Cancer – Mos gives a few shout outs before the obscure drums drop, punctuated by a bleak dingy sample, that he uses to wax poetic, painting well-crafted visuals about his urban surroundings: “Daylight disappears from sight, sun bleeds on the bricks and brings forth the night, red serenades gives shade to backstreets, heads adjust the EQ for bass in they jeeps, sounds like the drums from a neighboring tribe, absorb the vibe, feels good, close my eyes”. Ces makes a brief appearance and spits a few bars, but this should have just been left as a Mos Def solo record. Which is great to listen to while midnight marauding.
Do It – This one makes for solid filler material.
My Kung-Fu – This was UTD’s debut single, that I vaguely remember hearing late Saturday nights on the local radio station during their hip-hop mix back in the day. Each of the trio boast about their microphone skills over a sweet jazzy backdrop and a catchy hook. This was dope.
Flight To Puerto Rico – Short skit that finds Ces whopping some woman’s ass, and eventually, shooting her for calling her a “nigger”, all over a simple drum beat.
Front Line – This is easily the most conscious and militant song on Manifest Destiny. Mos, Ces and DCQ discuss the mental (and physical) warfare black people face in the wilderness of North America. I love the content, but the instrumental is so dry it would make Ashy Larry blush.
Like That – UTD uses the same melodic loop Marley Marl used for Da Youngstas’ “Backstabbers”, which I absolutely love. UTD does a nice job rockin’ over it, but even if they sucked, the instrumental alone would carrier this song.
My Kung-Fu Remix – UTD replaces the original jazzy backdrop for another one just as jazzy and sweet as the O.G. mix.
Manifest Destiny Remix – I prefer the dark and unearthly feel of the O.G. mix, but the happy feel good vibes on this remix are solid as well.
On Manifest Destiny, Ces and DCQ prove to be decent emcees, while Mos Def shines brighter and sounds sharper than his younger siblings. The album has a few dope songs, some good incomplete ideas, decent filler material, and needs a mean mix, but overall it’s still a decent listen. Manifest Destiny shows UTD’s potential, and I’m curious how they would have matured and gelled had they stayed together as a group.