Talk to me about hip hop and I’ll probably mention some sort of list. Maybe my favorite albums or what I’m listening to theses days. Ask me about my favorite rapper and I’ll scratch my head. I’ve heard so much tremendous music the past few years that I’d be hard-pressed to narrow it down to one MC. Read these pages, look for trends. I’m sure they exist. One thing that’s a definite anchor for me is lyricism. You’ve got to say something to keep my head nodding. I know there’s a time and place for style and a little bit of hype, but if it’s not making me think, I’m wasting my time.
Minnesota’s Brother Ali has been mastering the art of the quiet storm for years. His records manage to affect without offending our hip hop sensibilities. Somehow this albino Muslim is able to speak directly to the blue-collar core, whether white or black, like few artists working today. After 2009’s oddly paced Us, Tuesday saw the release of Mourning In America and Dreaming In Color, Ali’s true return to form. Conscious MC’s have been tossed a crown of thorns, condemned for thinking rather than gun busting. Brother Ali carries that weight, and does so in style that blurs the line between thinker and superhero. His line by line delivery is Rakim powerful, with a Chuck D arrogance not meant to scorn, but to enlighten.
Mourning is produced entirely by Seattle beatsmith Jake One, who’s nod to Pete Rock and DJ Premier has never been more evident. His backdrops give Ali room to dazzle. That’s not to say there’s no message. The record is a testament to love and loss while figuring out how to pay the bills. “Only Life I Know” and “Need A Knot” are signature examples of Ali’s worth on the mic. He seems settled, resulting in some of the heaviest hitting tracks of his career. If you’ve missed Brother Ali, start with Shadows On The Sun. You’ll catch right up because he doesn’t make music for the clubs or the “streets”. He makes records about life, and that’s something we can all relate to.