If you’ve gotten a chance to check out Brother Ali’s website, it’s truly a humble situation. The Midwest rapper employs the use not so much to push his own means and ideas but as a welcoming invitation for fans to share their stories. In apt fashion, he encourages others to leave comments and ask questions so that we can all learn from each other. He’s a sincere person who’s gone through and survived a lot in his life and is doing his share to give back.
A devout Muslim, after his divorce and custody battle over his child, Ali finally released his much awaited The Undisputed Truth in 2007. A muscular, battle-tested album, it won over fans and critics with its genuinely important touches. Because Ali is an embattled person who is above all, a storyteller willing to take three to four minutes on every song to get his message across. Succinct and open-ended, Us is an album that is bluntly, about everyone and anyone and with Atmosphere’s Ant back to provide production skills, Ali stands up for all of us with an empathizing and terrific touch.
After proclaiming that “we’re people at odds with our very own selves,” there isn’t a better fitted introduction than the one that requests, “I pray that you will listen with open hearts and open minds, brothers and sisters.” The evidence is in the music, both assured and astute, and in everything Ali raps about. On “The Travelers,” Ali’s voice gets rougher and more emotional as the lines run through and by the end of each verse he’s left grasping for air. Singing, “You’ve got to save my soul,” there isn’t a topic left uncovered – a stone unturned – with Ali’s intelligently crafted lyrics.
After the stirring energy that powers “The Preacher,” where Ali confirms his devotion as an MC out to share world truths and endeavors, the soul that’s overcome Ant’s beats are stronger than ever on “Crown Jewel.” Smooth, silky horns and fluid, rolling beats are the tools employed and it begs an intriguing question: is this producer, the same one who already carries a more-than-successful repertoire only getting better?
If anything, while Ali is fleshing his optimistic ideals on the peoples on “Fresh Air,” Ant is riding the high of his tenacity with one brilliant decision after another. Ant’s been working on Ali’s albums since his 2003 debut Shadows on the Sun, providing the terrific production to bring Ali’s significant wordplay to the forefront. However, he’s never infused the music with such brilliant soul as he does on Us. No, instead there are hand claps set in to use, background vocals that shake and groove and swaggering instrumental sections like a funky guitar here and a soothing bass there.
While most of the hip-hop genre suffers from an identity crisis that finds each other wondering what new method to make use of next, Ant and Ali are a completely down to earth duo. “Bad Mufucker Pt. 2” thrives on a dirty guitar lick and Ali’s bravely bold words and “Us” ties everything together with gospel-like vocals and claps. Showcasing just how good production can be without a needed sample or unusual electronic beep, there’s proof of that in every turning step and choice.
For all of the questions he asks of us, Ali doesn’t shy away from the fact that very few will ever be answered. But maybe his goal is to make us, as the good people we want and strive to be, think about the lives we live. In the meantime, his music is still a great source to turn to. There aren’t any questions about the quality of Us, an album filled with exceptional music; it’s a downright excellent release.
“Us” by Brother Ali