Brother Ali

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Rites Of Passage (2000), 5/10
Shadows Of The Sun (2003), 6.5/10
The Undisputed Truth (2007), 6/10
Us (2009), 5/10

Minneapolis' white rapper Brother Ali (Jason Newman), a devout Muslim, debuted with the cassette Rites Of Passage (Rhymesayers Entertainment, 2000).

The domestic ruminations of Shadows Of The Sun (Rhymesayers Entertainment, 2003) and The Undisputed Truth (Rhymesayers Entertainment, 2007) established him as one of the toughest rappers of his generation, thanks in no minor part to the production by Ant (one-half of Atmosphere), as vintage as spectacular, a postmodern revisitation of stereotypes of the 1960s and 1970s. Shadows Of The Sun borrowed from orchestral funk (Room With A View), agonizing blues (Win Some Lose Some), organ-driven soul (Forest Whitiker), orchestral jazz (Missing Teeth), western movie soundtracks (Victory), and dixieland-era pop (Blah Blah Blah) for the arrangements of Newman's raps. However, the real gems are due to original ideas that have nothing to do with the widely advertised method: interlocking melodic patterns for Shadows On The Sun, polyrhythmic syncopated rhythm for Bitchslap!, and even sparse arrangements for Prince Charming. Best of the rigmaroles is perhaps When The Beat Comes In, an artistic manifesto of sorts whose beats are derived from vintage guitar riffs.

The Undisputed Truth (Rhymesayers Entertainment, 2007) indulged a lot less in the retro-resurrection aesthetics, best in Daylight (disco-music and easy-listening) and Uncle Sam Goddamn (funk and blues). Its greatness lied in seductive arrangements: the melodramatic bass riff and ominous organ drone of Whatcha Got, the carefree quasi-country pace of Lookin' At Me Sideways, the haunting strings of Letter From The Government, the booming bass lines of Listen Up. The duets with sped-up voices stood up, such as Truth Is and Freedom Ain't Free. The melodic peak was the soul shuffle Take Me Home.

The EP The Truth Is Here (Rhymesayers Entertainment, 2009) collects rarities and leftovers.

Ali's chronicles are as uninteresting as a crime report from Singapore and his sermons are as predictable as a tv commercial on Us (2009). It's Ant who continues to amaze with his existential beats. His art ranges from the aggressive funk fest The Preacher to the laid-back lounge jazz of Crown Jewel. High points are the sophisticated setting of Tight Rope and the subtle underpinning of Round Here. Best combination of music and rap is perhaps the obsessive rant of Games, and the melodic peak is the singalong Fresh Air. The misguided move of the album is the orchestral ballad You Say (Puppy Love).

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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