Brother Ali- Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color
Originally published for Pop ‘stache. Some words on Brother Ali’s new lyrics below:
This is a letter to my countrymen / Not from a Democrat or a Republican / But one among ya / That’s why you call me Brother / Ain’t scared to tell you we’re in trouble cause I love you.
2012 marks the beginning of a more definitive role in social and political activism for Minneapolis raised rapper Brother Ali. Member of the independent hip hop label Rhymesayers (Atmosphere, Aesop Rock, MF Doom), Ali rolls with a crew of rappers known for their verbosity, intelligence and conscious lyrical content. Despite the popularity of labelmate and founder Atmosphere, Rhymesayers remains an independent label scouting underground artists with free speech on their minds. Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color marks the fifth studio album for Brother Ali and outlets his emerging boldness on issues such as racial and religious bullying, anti-corporate sentiments and major problems with our political systems.
Ali explains in “Letter to My Countrymen” that racial struggles permeate our culture still, and that sharing as a communal instinct is still so painfully far off the grid of desirability. “I think the struggle to be free is our inheritance / And if we say it how it really is / We know our lily skin still give us privilege / That’s the truth in life you gotta choose / Do I fight in the movement or think I’m entitled to it.” These struggles have personal weight, too. Ali has albinism, and frequently acknowledges the discrimination he experienced growing up as a large part of what shaped him today.
Mourning in America strives to initiate a cultural evolution, and Ali couldn’t have chosen a more opportune release date. September 18th is only six weeks before our very own presidential election, and Ali is unabashedly pushing for a more socially liberal, peaceful and tolerant world. In June he was arrested for participating in the occupation of a Minneapolis home for protecting the family that was being evicted from it. The arrest got publicity for an anti-PNC bank bullying cause. He continues to paint a picture of racial oppression and poverty in “Stop the Press,” calling the streets a “dead zone decorated with chalk lines and headstones.” Pessimism grows when generations see poverty repeat itself, so he rhymes with eclectic eloquence, “Crime just calls you cause you look at what you walk through / ain’t certain if you’ll make it ain’t sure you even want to.”
This album is as much for the public good as it is for his personal goals. Opening track “Letter to My Countrymen” explains: “Excuse me but I see it from a different view / I still believe in what a driven few can really do / I know that the masses wanna sleep / and they would just rather hear me rapping to the beat but / I wanna pass this planet to my son a little better than it was when they handed it to me.” These lyrics- like those on the rest of the album- are eloquent but not elite, verbose but patiently delivered. Ali continues his reputable personal addresses with the narrative “All You Need,” a consolation song directed towards his son: “There’s a whole lot of pain in your bloodline / But there’s a whole lot of strength in the sunshine / Lean back let the new day greet you / Cause you’re standing on the shoulders of a people / Who been beat down and treated unequal / But the prayer that they made now has reached you.”
The powerful chorus to final track “Singing This Song” wraps around Ali’s closing verses, and the album here solidifies itself with intentions to reform passivity and inform change. A preacher’s voice screams “I want my humanity back. I want to be a human again. I want to live in a fair world.” Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color is conscious and relevant poetry. The music is less about hip hop beats and more about Ali’s lyrics & flow, both of which flourish. What the album lacks with new producer JakeOne’s less-than memorable beats (previous albums were produced by Ant of Atmosphere) it makes up for with beautifully composed words and a big warm voice. Brother Ali is an activist to listen for and an excellent application of skill, while keeping hip hop confidence fly: “Truth so heavy it could rumble the earth / I dunked a paint brush up in a bucket of words.”