Brother Ali is one of RhymeSayers’ and Minneapolis’ premiere rappers, and his career trajectory has been on the up-and-up with each release. Still, for whatever reason, my interest in Ali has waned with each new LP. His tendency for bluntness and tough guy delivery of not-so-tough material had gotten to be a bit much, and I figured it was time to take a little time off in our relationship. Well, with Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color it seemed like a good time to revisit. While it’s wildly inaccurate to say the bluntness is gone (just look at that title), it is subdued on his new release, entirely produced by Jake One.
It starts out with “Letter to my Countrymen,” which is ultimately an introduction. It’s got a calm beat from Jake One while Ali lays a mild-mannered manifesto atop. “I know the masses would just rather… hear me rapping to the beat/ but I want to pass this planet to my son/ a little better than it was when they handed it to me” he summarizes, setting the tone for what is to follow over the next 13 songs, and returning to such sentiments on the closing “Singing This Song.”
From the start, it’s a blend of his usual forceful punch and a softer, savvier side that’s more reflective and pondering than aggressive. Over the run of Mourning in America… this blend is well achieved. The softer tracks give the harder ones more edge, and the sequencing keeps them from bogging down the record’s tempo. It feels complete and well planned as a full album. The pacing also adds emphasis, acting like a punch when “Mourning in America” starts with “Murder murder murder/ kill kill kill.”
Mid-tempo cuts like “Work Everyday” feel more like previous Ali “slower” songs. The tempo drops and Ali raps reflectively on hardships and priorities in modern life over a soulful beat, but his delivery and the peppy snares keep it moving in a way that some of the others, like “Letter to my Countrymen” and “Namesake” do not. It acts, on an album level, as a transition between styles and these songs are essential to the overall success of the record, exemplified perfectly as “Work Everyday” moves seamlessly into the banging “Need a Knot.”
The record explores a lot of territory, from personal and family issues in “Stop the Press” and “All You Need,” to “Gather Round,” which takes a scratch-heavy approach from Jake One and a delivery switch-up from Ali that has an almost dancehall influence to it. While a whole record of this sound would be tiresome, as the fifth of fourteen cuts, it’s a welcome change of pace and he pulls off the variation well. The scratching suits the lyrical repetition and the song wisely pulls up at 4:39. The aforementioned “Need a Knot” is another playful, new style, built with a banging beat that pulls up into a hooky refrain and similar repetition as with “Gather Round.”
Sure, the record still has a couple “skip-worthy” tracks in “Namesake” and “Won More Hit,” but the record is a solid entry into the Brother Ali canon and it renews my interest in the rapper by mixing up the cadence. The standouts, such as “Mourning in America,” “Work Everyday,” and “Only Life I Know,” mix a bit more nuance into Brother Ali’s work in both beats and delivery while leaving his message at center stage.
7.0 / 10
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