Brother Ali is an American rapper based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota and has been active since 1998. Signed to the indie label Rhymesayers Entertainment, Ali has published six albums in his time and is currently on tour for the fifteenth anniversary of one of his first albums Shadows on the Sun. With the anniversary of this album and coincidentally, the first full work I ever listened to by Ali, the logical thing to do would be to write a full scale, in depth review of the album.
It starts off strong both metaphorically and literally, with the first track titled “Room With a View” opening with several different voices muttering over each other name-dropping the album. With a loud burst, Brother Ali comes in with a sharp brass-like instrument with a heavy emphasis on percussion. This does a great job setting the pace for the album, as most of Ali’s songs focus getting you pumped up, which these instruments lend themselves too.
The way I would describe Ali’s voice is similar to that of a preacher, very powerful and projective. You’d think from this tone that it would lend itself more to R&B, but in fact it creates a sound with his rapping that distinguishes himself from a lot of other rappers today. This soulful style of what I would call almost “sing-rapping,” makes you literally feel the effort and heart he puts into the music. He emphasizes almost every word he says, example being on the track “Pay Them Back” where he expresses his dominance in one line, “Liked your grimace but I must admit it’s been a while-Since my outer adult disciplined your inner child”. He says this with such confidence that it’s infectious, and you can’t help but swell up with self pride when listening to it. Now, while one of Ali’s greatest strengths though is to keep this dynamic throughout the entirety of the album. While there are many hard-hitting tracks such as “Pay Them Back,” he can just as easily switch it up to something much softer and personable.
One of the best examples of this difference from “Pay Them Back” is the track “Forest Whitaker”. While both have the same amount of projection that Ali generally puts into his music, stylistically they could not be more different.
Instead of what sounds like a verbal middle finger on “Pay Them Back”, “Forest Whitaker” is all about bringing you up. The music behind Ali’s rapping reflects this change of pace, with less blunt, hard-hitting beats, and instead with sharp, high notes that can’t help but put you in a good mood. With what sounds essentially like a synthesized church organ to punctuate Ali’s positive lyrics, it’s unsurprising that the song is one of his most popular in general.
This is one of those rare albums that people can recommend to their friends, without fear of it being disliked. Or even it’s not someone’s cup of tea, chances are they’ll at least appreciate the variety of sound and the way Ali’s voice and lyrics command attention.
Recommended Tracks: “Forest Whitaker”, “Win Some Lose Some”
Album Rating: 9.25/10
Album Review By: Zach Bordelon