Brother Ali - Us
Record Label: Rhymesayers Entertainment
Release Date: September 22, 2009
In a world like ours, where sometimes the ugliest moments only get the spotlight, people need to step up and offer hope to those who have lost it. Brother Ali is one of those people. His latest album Us is a breath of fresh air in today's incredibly saturated hip-hop market, both in subject matter and overall musicianship. Bitches and bling take a back seat here to heartfelt stories of everyday life, mixing the pain and beauty we've all seen into an album that offers a light at the end of the tunnel.
The album's intro ("Brothers and Sisters") introduces Brother Ali by way of a decidedly nondenominational preacher, detailing all the pains and injustices in the world in sharp contrast to Ali's message, "a message of true hope and true peace." With a blessing from Brother Ali, the subsequent track ("The Preacher") begins and we become acquainted with the incredibly original style he brings to the table. The beats composed by famed producer Ant carry a very funk-like vibe throughout the whole album, blending perfectly with Ali's smooth, soulful voice. On this particular track, horns and a clapping backbeat carry the fast-paced, intense lyrics, where Brother Ali tries to explain that "skills get you that [respect], not swag and clothes." It's also in this track that we are introduced to Ali's charming confidence, and he spends most of the album convincing us of the fact he's one of the best.
A few tracks later, we're introduced to a dose of personality from Ali ("Fresh Air"), offering us a glimpse into his life and the way he lives. Set to a positive, upbeat funk guitar, this track oozes with joy as Brother Ali chronicles his rise to fame and the changes it's brought in his life. The guitar is joined by a fresh bass line that helps the song flow right up to its conclusion. Listening to this song, I could feel his happiness with how his life has changed, and how unafraid he was looking to the future. This is the defining song of the album, and best showcases both Ali and Ant's skills in their respective roles.
While Us offers hope in a world that lacks it, Brother Ali doesn't shy away from issues that bother him personally. This topics range from racism, broken families, and homophobia ("Tight Rope") to the slave trade of early America ("The Travelers"). The former is a song about people being torn between two different worlds. Accompanied by a blaring, high-pitched guitar and driving piano chords, it points out the utter lack of hope people in these situations can have, and that at times there's really no way to change people's minds on the subject. The latter carries a unique xylophone melody, but is pushed to its end by the simple back beat. It deals with the kidnapping and subsequent ocean voyage of slaves in the 1700s, and the way a culture can be all but extincted by the oppression it experiences. These two tracks are a sharp contrast to the overall hopeful message the rest of the album conveys, but bring to light issues we all need to dwell on and help change.
The parting, titular track ("Us") is a call to drop the barriers people hold between them and the rest of the world. With only a church choir and basic beat behind him, Brother Ali offers the most heartfelt song of the album as he pleads with people to connect with others. Although we're all different, we're human. He preaches without being pushy. Ali explains that through all our unique experiences, we are in the same boat and have to all work together to make this world better. The message within this track is beautiful and pure, and makes it my favorite of the album.
Brother Ali's latest album Us can only be compared to a beacon of light in today's hip-hop scene. While other artists are content with extensive sampling and uninspired lyrics, Brother Ali pushes the boundaries with his intense subject matter and incredibly unique lyrical style. While not as political as some of his earlier albums, Us brings issues we all need to think upon to the spotlight. And we need not be content that others are handling these issues, because "...if humanity is one then we all get burned when it's hell that we're traveling through."