Brother Ali: Rites of Passage

Brother Ali
Rites of Passage
Rhyme Sayers

[Editor's note: A correction ran concerning this story; see end of article.]

"EVERY TIME YOU listen to a track," muses this reflective Rhyme Sayers auxiliary, "that's four minutes of your life that you can never get back." Such simple math should hardly make for a revelation. But in a moment crammed with more underground 12-inches and cassettes and miscellaneous recorded paraphernalia than even the most diligent headz can process--and in a scene that, for all its charms, is too chummy and polite to say when wack is wack--Brother Ali's home truth is worth restating.

Though Ali cuts his easy groove with some Bomb Squad sirens and Wu strings, his tracks lope more leisurely than that previous carpe-diem sentiment might lead you to expect. This allows Ali to flex narrative skills as well as the virtuoso displays of intricately rhymed tongue twisters common to the MC. "Nine Double Em," in which the fool Ali shoots for fronting on Nicollet turns out to be the cousin he never met, is more than a match for eloquent spoken-word bits by local poetic luminaries Desdamona and Queen Aminah. Granted, Ali and I might pull our levers from opposite ends of the voting booth: The bootstraps street wisdom of "Whatever" ("Our so-called leaders they whine for legislation/When the biggest problem we have is our decision-making") is a bit too libertarian from my queasy white-liberal perspective. (All that's missing is a verse about how student loans sap the pioneer impulse). But his reclamation of "Ali Boombaye," ("Ali, Kill Him," the battle cry Muhammad Ali encouraged his Zairean supporters to chant while he trained to slug George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle) is an overdue addendum to hip-hop bloodthirst.

One quibble: Like all Rhyme Sayers product, Rights of Passage is a cassette-only release (whether this is a matter of principle or economics, I won't guess). Really, compact-disc releases pose no challenge to anyone's cred, and the pressing technology gets cheaper by the day. Step into the Eighties already, fellas, and rerelease this on CD. After a half-dozen listens to this 54-minute-and-30-second tape (that makes for 327 happily surrendered minutes of my particular life), I say Brother Ali deserves digital preservation.


Correction published 11/27/2000:
Owing to reporting errors, this review contained several mistakes, misspellings, and misidentifications. Suffice to say it was Muhammad Ali (not Muhammed Ali) who fought George Foreman (not George Frazier, or, for that matter, Joe Frazier) in the Rumble in the Jungle. The above version of the story reflects the corrected text. City Pages regrets the error.

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