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13 October, 2009@10:16 pm

Brother Ali has been putting it down on the scene for a minute, gaining notoriety by opening for Atmosphere on various tours over the years, taking the stage by storm with his unabashed swagger and unique appearance. An albino, Ali has often dodged questions about what his “actual” race is, because he has felt that he almost exists outside the racial spectrum, devoid of any “color” in his skin. While it has been revealed that his family is white, he’s always felt closer to black people, as he could relate to the prejudices growing up from other white kids. Truly, through his music and through his attitude, Ali’s plight is less about race and more about class, and clearly he has struggled to escape poverty and transcend the system. With his fourth album, Us, Ali continues to spit from the perspective of the blue-color rapper.

Produced entirely by Ant, Us is a worthy successor to any Atmosphere album or any release on Rhymesayers, for that matter, as Ali channels the sound of the midwest through Ant’s beats. He’s less concerned with being rich, and more concerned with just surviving, but is thankful for his success thus far, as he illustrates on “Fresh Air”, a sort of Al Green-esque groove where he speaks on buying his first house. He isn’t beyond the struggle, however, as on the hypnotic “House Keys”, he recounts a tale of robbing his drug-dealer neighbors for their stash and making a killing. While these types of tales are commonplace in hip-hop, Ali’s take on the narrative is done with such cool finesse, as he delivers cleverly written, multi-syllabic rhymes that you can’t help but sing-a-long too upon consecutive listens.

His passion for rhyming comes through in several places throughout the album, such as when he crashes through the door, guns blazing on the album’s first track “The Preacher”, as he attacks the mic like Ghostface opening Ironman, spitting fire and brimstone over an abrasive horn section. Later, we get to see him next to some friendly competition on the posse cut “Best @ It”, as Joell Ortiz and Freeway join him for a few sparring rounds. Needless to say, Ali doesn’t allow his guests to outshine him, as he politely lets them rhyme first, then embarrasses them in an extra long final verse, filled with some of his most brilliant wordplay ever.

Ali is the quintessential average-guy rapper, whose music speaks with a level of honesty not found elsewhere. “Slippin’ Away” is not a fictional account of that magical, glorified place called “the ghetto” that many rappers have never experienced; instead it chronicles the true tales of the hardships of Ali and his peers as young men. Perhaps his most introspective moment is “You Say (Puppy Love)”, where he passionately confesses his deep love for a woman that doesn’t yet love herself. His words are haunting as he confesses “Puppy love is real to a puppy / I still want to feel you touch me / I’m not saying leave me / Please just be free / I love you so much, I don’t want you to need me.” Over Ant’s misery-laden track, Ali goes straight for the heart and hits the bullseye; something that guys like Trey Songz only which they could accomplish.

Ali’s an acquired taste. He’s got a sound and style all his own, so it may be hard for the masses to swallow such a healthy plate of substance, so it’s unlikely we’ll catch him on tour with Yung Joc anytime soon. Despite this, when every other disposable rapper’s time has expired, Ali’s legacy of honest, continually solid full-length releases will surely continue to live on. – DJ Pizzo

  Mixtape D.L.
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