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For the first time in his life, Brother Ali has been enjoying some day-to-day stability. Gone is the turbulent marriage to his first wife, homelessness, and the associated drama—all of which Ali openly documented on his last LP, The Undisputed Truth.
His new album, Us, is a progression that will establish Brother Ali as one of Hip Hop’s most enduring figures. While maintaining his intimate approach to songwriting, Ali has broadened his focus to examine life through his relationships with those closest to him. The new direction allows Ali to venture through the strengths and flaws of the human condition, exploring the evils of slavery, drug abuse, rape and poverty as well as the beauty of love, family and redemption.
Continuing the tradition of Ali’s previous albums, Us is produced entirely by long time partner Ant (Atmosphere, Felt) who provides enchanting mixtures of lush strings, and haunting choirs with the grinding pulse of funk-inspired synth bass and talk box. Giving Ali the perfect musical bed to deliver his commanding and ever thought provoking musings.
This new approach was hinted at on Ali’s most recent EP, The Truth Is Here, on the funked-up track “Little Rodney” where he says in the chorus, “If ya’ll trying to talk about the horrors you see / tell your stories through me.” As Ali says, “there are individuals that are doing okay, but a lot of the people around me and many I care about are still going through the same thing…things haven’t changed for them.”
Us opens with “Brothers And Sisters” as the legendary Chuck D (Public Enemy) introduces Brother Ali as the speaker for the evening accompanied by a live Gospel choir and Stokley Williams (Mint Condition). Ali uses songs like “House Keys” and “Games” to illustrate how easy it is get caught up and trapped by drugs and hustling. “These are people that could be your friends,” explains Ali about those in his new material. “This is not just a statistic…this is real life and real people.”
“The Travelers”, is a multi-viewed look at slavery in America. Ali paints the picture of both the hardship faced by slaves being forcibly removed from their lives but also the effect this had on white America who has inherited a shameful legacy. “We need to really go back and acknowledge slavery for what it is, what it was at the time, and what it is in our lives, all of our lives” says Ali.
Studies of slavery and modern corner life alike make the Ali worthy of the “Street Preacher” title friends have given him. Yet amid his evolution on Us, he hasn’t forgotten about what it means to be an all around champion MC. With the bombastic “Bad Mufucker Pt II” and the Freeway (Rocafella) and Joell Ortiz (Slaughterhouse) assisted “[email protected]”, Ali still celebrates the craft of MCing. “I believe there’s nothing wrong with just rapping for the sake of rapping,” says Ali, who’s still trying to be the greatest of all time.
While in many regards Ali is well on his way to that label one thing is undeniable, Brother Ali is one of the most engaging and important voices in Hip Hop right now and he and Ant have once again crafted a beautifully intelligent and entertaining album for all of Us.