The line between mainstream and underground Hip-Hop has become less and less distinguishable over the last couple of years. With so many artists scrambling for major label deals, rappers in similar veins as Brother Ali are welcomed with open arms by those still sporting their Jansports™ like it was 1999. Over the last two years, the Minneapolis rhymer’s stock has risen from relative unknown to underground hero with co-signs and collaborations with the likes of Jake One and Freeway.
His new album Us is a 16 track deep collaboration between him and fellow Minnesota beatmaker Ant (of Atmosphere.) The album opens up with a sermon from Hip-Hop legend Chuck D that introduces Ali to the audience like he was much more of a man of the cloth than a rapper; a theme that is continually touched upon over the disc. This distinction that he created is both a gift and a curse. On one hand, his voice and delivery is very fitting for the job, but on the other, it sets up lyrical expectations that he only meets on few songs.
For example, tracks like “Breakin’ Dawn,” “Crown Jewel” and “Fresh Air” have nearly the same effect as Tylenol PM when consumed. His flow on the aforementioned cuts is an exaggerated extension of his “preachy” style with mediocre lyrics that completely lack the amount of passion that his voice puts forth. This sleep-inducing attribute is the album’s main downfall, as it is also found in his story-telling. “House Keys” is a pointless narrative that’s about as uneventful and predictable as a Hugh Grant romantic comedy. Just because an occurrence can be rapped, doesn’t mean it should be recorded.
While the majority of the album falls to a similar fate, there are a couple exceptions that are mostly found near the back end of the track listing. “Best @ It” is the only track with a feature on it and it comes with two. Joell Ortiz and Freeway bring out the best of Ali over a choppy upbeat track that Ant crafts beautifully with plenty of alterations to keep the track interesting. “The Travelers,” and “Tight Rope” are also worth checking out, but they are not quite enough to balance out the dreary, repetitive tone that is carried throughout the rest of the project.
In the end, Brother Ali is still a respected MC who will continue having success pleasing his established fan base. Us just isn’t the album that’s going to expand it any wider.
Previously Posted — Brother Ali – “Us” Video | Brother Ali Feat. Freeway & Joell Ortiz – “Best At It”