Brother Ali: Us

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," which he even used as a working title for the record that ultimately became Us.

This time around, Ali shifts perspectives. 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. Ali peppers his analogies with Minnesota pride and pleasure in his accomplishments through a soulful and confident delivery, exemplified by the irregular rhymes in "Fresh Air," where he expresses his satisfaction at owning his own home. 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 the one constant is that we have each other.

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