Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Brother Ali

Below is a review I wrote for the latest Brother Ali release. A bonus DVD of Ali's Undisputed Truth Tour homecoming performance, interviews, commentary and music videos is also included.


The Truth is Here – Brother Ali, Rhymesayers Entertainment 2009

Born with a rare genetic condition known as Albinism Ali’s body lacks the pigment that gives skin, hair and eyes their color. An outcast from day one, Brother Ali grew up inside himself, constrained by the seemingly unbreakable walls of social acceptance that stood surrounding him at birth. Ali’s intriguing life as an albino has been the subject of unfailing autofocus within the media. With the arrival of his latest offering, The Truth is Here, we must begin to look beyond the uniform of the soldier to understand the heart and mind of the man. Brother Ali’s rhymes of personal hardship serve as a sonic catalyst for change from within; indeed these are songs for anyone that has dreamt of a mirror less world, hid his eyes with sunglasses or grown a beard to hide his face.

Intelligently structured, The Truth is Here crackles forth with the cinematic arc of brilliant sequel. On the opening track “Real As Can Be,” listeners break bread with Brother Ali as he brings us up to speed on the last year of his life. The conversational tone of this first song welcomes us with the sincerity of dear friend back from a long trip. The effective subtlety of this first act can be directly attributed to the landscape beneath the lyrics. The contribution of longtime Rhymesayers producer Anthony “Ant” Davis cannot be overstated. Ant’s ingenuity for beat-making, sampling and musicianship are akin to that of a psychological gardener. These are not factory beats made in Los Angeles cubicles. These are beats are organic and rich; made by someone that knows the story chapter and verse. Ant’s purposeful and informed backdrops are the soil from which Brother Ali’s rhymes naturally sprout.

On Truth’s ominous second track “Philistine David” Ali relates his personal isolation and indignation with the continuing struggles within the Holy Land. An early convert to Islam, Brother Ali’s dedication to the Qur’an is the backbone of his message. In another artist’s hands these songs might collapse beneath the weight of religious overtones. While references are abundant throughout, Brother Ali walks the religious line with the nimble skill of an educator, offering the source of his inspiration, but leaving the revelation in the hands of the listener.

Each track of The Truth is Here builds toward a triumphant climax. “Good Lord,” a musical high point of the album, gets to Ali’s central premise. When he defiantly asks “How ya gonna hate me for bein’ what God made me?” we feel the years of sadness and disenchantment overcome. At some point in our lives we all feel like we have no one. When it’s dark and things can’t be fixed Brother Ali reminds us “sometimes the hardest thing to be in this world is just yourself.” Brother Ali puts the listener in his shoes just to show we all wear the same size.

Ant’s Bill Withers sample at the head of “Baby Don’t Go” elegantly sets the stage for a playfully poignant reaction to the challenges of being single in your thirties. A follow-up of sorts to “Walking Away” (from 2007’s The Undisputed Truth), Ali uses humor, confidence and soul to positively affect the business end of loneliness. The vantage point of this song shows us that through healthy eyes even that which is furthest from our reach is still attainable. After all, who wouldn’t want to “sit on a wish and let [their] feet dangle?”

Before they were famous Brother Ali and Anthony Davis were fans of music. In even it’s most boastful moments The Truth is Here remains grounded by the pioneers of hip-hop, r&b and funk. Brother Ali’s sharpest corners are softened by Ant’s throw-backy, bass-laden backdrops. “Talkin’ My Shit” and “The Believer (featuring Slug)” are funky takes on classic bravado and comradery.

The very tallest peak of The Truth is Here waits patiently at the tail end of the disc. Those familiar with Atmosphere’s most recent LP When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold will notice a common tonal quality between introductory composition “Like the Rest of Us” and Ali’s final track “Begin Here.” Ant’s delicate keys, an understated beat and clap-track create a warm intimacy between Ali and the listener. Often seen bringing the young Faheem on stage for guest rhymes; Ali’s son is the namesake of his message. Translated from the Arabic, Faheem means “one that will understand with ease.” Ali’s mission is to strengthen others with the clarity of mind achieved through hardship and struggle. Brimming with emotion, confidence and sincerity, The Truth is Here see’s Brother Ali and Anthony Davis standing before the open elevator doors of their future.

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