CD review: Brother Ali's The Undisputed Truth

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25 avr. 2007, 18h51m

The champion is definitely back. Brother Ali, the Minneapolis-based (but native Madisonian) rapper whose Shadows on the Sun and Champion E.P. blew away rap fans new and old in 2004, continued his steady upward trend this April with the release of The Undisputed Truth. It's a solid collection of songs, showcasing Ali's particular talent for writing superb soul-bearing lyrics while capturing a little better the incredible energy he is known for producing on stage.

Taking its cue from Ali's live performances, the album begins with a series of songs clearly designed to pump the listener up. You can almost see Ali's lumbering mass strutting across the stage as the pseudo-battle raps of "Whatcha Got" and "Lookin' At Me Sideways" plow out. Lyrically they're somewhat bland, being mostly comprised of reasons Brother Ali is better than his rivals, but little hints of his verbal talents do shine through when he starts rapping about his father.

The opening series culminates with the stand-out "Truth Is," one of the best songs on the album, and one of his best songs live. Over producer ANT's excellent rolling bass and funk guitar sample, Brother Ali lets us know what his album is really about with the first verse: "I stand here naked as the day I was born. Face to the dawn and my Faith in my song. Blood soaking the Pages I painted em on and none of yall will take my place when I'm gone."

What follows from there is a trip through the life and personal struggles of an overweight albino recently-divorced single Muslim father looking for love. But despite how that might sound, Ali's wry sense of humor and the popping verve of Ant's tracks keeps the album from ever getting bogged down in the heavy stuff. Rather it's a genuine pleasure to hear such a gifted and self-aware lyricist frankly and unapologetically confront the realities of his life.

Other stand-out tracks include "Daylight," where Ali deftly addresses all the gossip surrounding his race and religion that followed his first album, and the absolutely gorgeous "Take Me Home," one of the best tracks on any of his albums, which features a wonderfully cheerful drum beat and soul sample from Ant and some wicked guitar accompaniment from Jef Lee Johnson.

Where the album lacks--and it doesn't lack much--is that fewer of the tracks have real stand-out value and single potential than his earlier Shadows on the Sun. The lyrics and the beats are excellent all around, but they often seem to be just millimeters shy of finding the perfect groove. There are perhaps too many "I'm the best, you're no good" songs, especially at the beginning of the album. But doing tracks like that is a long-standing rap standard that ties Brother Ali to the hip-hop roots that are so important to him, and more often than not the tracks that don't quite work for Brother Ali in the studio become the fist-pumping crowd raisers of his live performances.

Fans of political raps will like this album for "Letter From The Government" and "Uncle Sam Goddamn." The first finds Brother Ali talking about attempts to enlist him, "What kind of sucker would I have to be after these years of you harassing and attacking me to run and join your cavalry. Imagine mall GI Joe'd up in Afghanistan somewhere prepared to go nuts. You clinically crazy if you think you could pay me a figure that could make me slay these innocent babies." On "Uncle Sam Goddamn" the listener will have to get past the stupid refrain before she can appreciate what is otherwise a first-rate political song.

Brother Ali is a talent that's only going to move up. His stellar first albums and now The Undisputed Truth have the quality of laying the groundwork for something major. One gets the impression that all that this "urban Norman Rockwell" needs to truly blow up is for someone to figure out a way to harness the man's live show chemistry and reproduce it in the recording studio.

4/5 stars
Envois approuvés
indie sex, Indiecent Music

Commentaires

  • nikki-is-hxc

    Midwestern hip-hop never clicked with me until Brother Ali. The man is ingenius. Awesome review p.s.

    27 avr. 2007, 2h28m
  • GobberGo

    Thanks! I would recommend Atmosphere's God Loves Ugly if you like Brother Ali and want a better taste of Midwest hip-hop--similar intensity and kick-ass songwriting, but an even better emcee IMO.

    27 avr. 2007, 5h22m
  • SirPsychoFlea

    On "Uncle Sam Goddamn" the listener will have to get past the stupid refrain before she can appreciate what is otherwise a first-rate political song. I'm totally with you on that one

    29 sept. 2010, 12h51m
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