"Us" by Brother Ali

Brother Ali
Us

Rhymesayers Entertainment
2009

Review

In the intro to this album "Brothers and Sisters", the narrator in his preacher voice announces that Brother Ali "Carries with him a message of true hope and true peace". Which is true. But I would add to that description "Savage rhyming skills and an incredibly underrated (or least not discussed enough) producer in Ant of Atmosphere fame". Brother Ali is a rare MC that can convincingly sound like he could lyrically tear you in two and feel deep love in his heart for a woman he cares about.

Brother Ali sums up himself perfectly in the bombastic "The Preacher" over hype, fight music with a live horn sample and a pressing bassline when he says:

If you know me you know I love my family love my god
Before I knew either I loved my art
So I'm married to the pen till death do us part
Rock hard with all my heart

...and further gives insight into his motivation in the closing "Us" with

I started rhyming just to be somebody
To make people notice me at the party
And not be just the new kid that's albino
Make em say yeah I know but have you heard him rhyme though
Now I take that same party around the globe
And my story connected with a lot of folks
I hope so cause that's the only thing I know

That to me is true integrity expressed through extremely witty lyricism that attempts to celebrate life and not to dwell on negativity or image for pure entertainment value. In my mind, this album represents Hip-Hop at it's best; what can be better than beats and rhymes that can rock a party and educate the listener as well? Lyrically Brother Ali is on point and so is his producer Ant. I am a big Fan of Ant's work with Atmosphere and even Atmosphere's collaboration with Murs in Felt. For this round with Brother Ali, Ant's brought with him lots of Blues and Funk inspired tracks that always suit the subject of the songs perfectly.

Ali vacillates between talking about his own life, telling stories about archetypes he comes across in life, and a few inspired moments just talking about how ridiculous he his on the microphone. It is amazing to me how versatile he his.

Take the outstanding "Babygirl", for example. This blues inspired beat is my vote for best on the album and Brother Ali tells a story about a girl who survives sexual abuse. Sort of an anti-Eminem song to me in that rather than dwell on the horrific elements of a given atrocity to exploit it for entertainment and shock value, Brother Ali uses it to focus on the destructiveness of the activity and to tell a story that is ultimately about hope. The argument in favor of songs that glamorize negativity is always that "at least the subject is being brought to light". But Ali is doing more than just bringing it to light. He is talking about real pain that exists in the world is trying to make a statement about hope and survival which to me is a more respectful and ultimately positive way of discussing difficult subjects.

Later on "Slippin Away" over an excellent beat that would be right at home on a very good Soul record, Brother Ali spins an effective Hip-Hop love song (!!!). That's not something you see very often.

I take no pride knowing
That you avoid the mirror to shun what you despise
Never knew your beauty you came here with
For the first time you caught your reflection in my eyes

When he says "Even I can't love you enough for both of us" he genuinely sounds like he's actually ready to break down and cry and emotionally most Hip-Hop artists are not going to go to that level of emotion.

Yet on - what is for my money the "I'm Bad" for a new generation - "Bad Mufucker Pt. II" Ali proves that he's not beyond tearing off some heads lyrically. Peep his braggadocio lyrics:

I'm so incredibly nasty/yes my mama slapped me when she had me
Told me get your ass out with your daddy
Talk hella trash and my teachers couldn't stand me
Used to call me bastard
Told me I was trashy
Unsupervised child they called me a latch-key
At risk youth from a single parent family
Nuts got hairy and my voice got raspy
Fools were gettin acne I was getting saavy
Yes I'm a bad motherfucker understand me

Woah!

On the negative side, I can say that a few of the songs on the album have just ok-beats, but at 16 tracks, you can expect that to be the case. So yes, the album could have stood to be a bit shorter. But to me, this is an argument in favor of Hip-Hop music all-together. Brother Ali represents Hip-Hop at it's most positive with focus on representing real life and social consciousness while at the same time bringing with him the lyrical talent and tinge of positivity that is all too often lacking in the genre.

...so yeah, I liked it.

4.000 out of 5

Track Ratings

1. Brothers & Sisters (01:27)
2. The Preacher (03:23) 4
3. Crown Jewel (03:57) 4
4. House Keys (02:42) 5
5. Fresh Air (04:42) 5
6. Tight Rope (03:36) 3
7. Breakin' Dawn (04:37) 5
8. The Travelers (05:18) 3
9. Babygirl (04:34) 5
10. 'Round Here (03:55) 3
11. Bad Mufucker, Part II (03:34) 5
12. [email protected] (04:23) 3
13. Games (03:43) 3
14. Slippin' Away (04:58) 3
15. You Say (Puppy Love) (04:17) 5
16. Us (02:44) 4