you donâ€™t want to make too big a deal out of something like that; maybe
itâ€™s dumb to assume that such an experience would provide an otherwise
normal Middle American kid sufficient incentive to rise and rise and rise,
and to beat the best at their own wicked game. Maybe, though, itâ€™s
precisely the type of impetus thatâ€™s gonna propel a kid with natural-born
brains and creative gifts right over the em-effing top. Whatever the case,
itâ€™s Incentive with a capital I youâ€™re hearing on Brother Aliâ€™s The
a commanding follow-up to his very fine The Champion EP and stunning Shadows
on the Sun
album from 2004.
lies coiled and ready to snap at the heart of all great music, from
Beethoven to the JBs. Usually it means that the artist has not just a
reason but, buried somewhere unfathomable in the brain or the loins, a
to express, a need that sounds truly like heâ€™d just plain die if what he
had to say didnâ€™t get said right â€” or just plain didnâ€™t get heard.
Aliâ€™s got that sound, that drive, that believability and that
affection-inspiring passion on The Undisputed Truth. Teaming again with his
longtime producer Ant (whoâ€™s also Atmosphereâ€™s soundman), Aliâ€™s come up
with a slew of stories, scenes and sounds that over and again compel us to
really listen to what heâ€™s talking about, and, a few braggadocious de rigueurs aside
(â€śDaylightâ€ť: â€śLet me unravel my pedigreeâ€ť), for the most part itâ€™s a lot of
real serious stuff.
of their musical settings, however, Brother Aliâ€™s sermons and scenarios
would remain agile poetic rants on the disgraceful state of the Union and
its shameful slave-trading past (â€śUncle Sam Goddamnâ€ť), various inner-city
hells, the sad impossibility of repairing trashed love (â€śWalking Awayâ€ť),
and, yeah, finding solace in a fatherly God.
couple other facts worth noting here, namely that since his last record,
Ali divorced his wife of 10 years, became homeless for a spell and had a
bitch of a time gaining custody of his son. He also became a devout Muslim.
Could be that all these kinds of things combined somehow to magnify the
albumâ€™s substantial gravitas. Yet the artistry of the musicâ€™s arrangement,
and even the songsâ€™ sequencing, is more persuasive on that score â€” the
albumâ€™s got a wholeness to it, not that far removed from what you would
have gotten from a concept-rock LP in the early â€™70s.
like this: Listening to Brother Ali having his say, you donâ€™t get tired and
burnt out, like you normally do when youâ€™ve paid a rapper to yell at you
all day. Thatâ€™s a tribute to his and Antâ€™s deeply defined and enjoyably
weird mixing art, to be sure. Above and beyond that, though, is the
inspiring rush you get from the good-humored and amazingly supple flows of
the otherwise deadly serious Bro Ali himself, who, despite the urgency of
his message, is palpably buzzed about finally being heard. As he triumphantly
proclaims in the insanely uplifting â€śEar to Earâ€ť: â€śI was always crazy/guess
itâ€™s safe to say/I came a long way, baby.â€ť