By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Since his first release nearly a decade ago, Minneapolis rapper Brother Ali has crafted a stage persona of a tough guy with a soft underbelly. His 2007 release, The Undisputed Truth, added a stronger tone as Ali acted as spokesman for the voiceless—a "street preacher" of sorts, which, turns out, was once used as the working title for the record that ultimately became Us.
This time around, Ali shifts perspectives, though. Instead of pointing vitriol at society's snakes, he takes a positive look at his life, family and friends. Producer Ant starts the album with prominent horns and a celebratory feel that drifts toward destitution and disappointment as Ali tackles numerous social woes. He hits on homophobia, race and divorce, among others, but with a human angle aiming to unite. The ability to straddle the egotistical MC alongside the bleeding-heart family man is unique, and only Brother Ali—and perhaps some of his Rhymesayers brethren—could get away with comparing his rising fortunes to being "like the Berenstain Bears."
As the record hits side two, the tone gets more familiar, with an angry edge and language to match. However, the spite becomes lament, and Ali continues to humanize his subjects, concluding that happiness is possible within a flawed world. When the final track fades out, Ant brings the listener back to where everything started, looping the simple handclaps and "la la las" to remind us that life isn't always pleasant, but that the one constant we have is each other.
Catch Brother Ali at the Granada Theater on Tuesday, October 27.