Brother Ali is one of the coolest rappers I’ve been around on a human level. At one of his shows a local DJ who had played behind big name rappers for decades left wide eyed. I heard him say “he’s just such a positive dude,” and all of his material points to that. A lot of his reputation as the savior of the real human experience in rap lyrics is merited. He is one of, if not the, best pure lyricist in Hip Hop. What’s a bit more deceptive is looking good next to the clownish imagery of others. In a world of fake rapper thug/player images, being a well-balanced person makes Ali seem like a superhero. Maybe in a genre that’s lost its mind the one sane person left gets to look that way.
Judging a Brother Ali EP is different from judging his album. Either getting out the remains of his previous state of mind or finding a new one, he lets his EPs lead him to his next album. Here he seems to be finding a new state of mind. In The Bite Marked Heart, he ventures full force into territories that most MCs directly fear. “Songs for the ladies” killed Yelawolf’s debut album after all, and they keep Lloyd Banks from being a three dimensional MC. While Countless MC’s continue to struggle on how to address their female audience, Ali shows the way while answering more important questions.
Every song in his career was produced by Rhymesayers mainstay and one half of Atmosphere, Ant. They had a kinship and comfort level that was downright Ganstarr-ian until Hiphopdx and other publications began lobbying for Jake One production. Jake One brings a bigger, deeper sound. Beats you would hear on a G-unit album that make you forget how far the words Tony Yayo and poetry are from one another. The first song on Bite Marked Heart is that same kind of beat, given a syrupy Nikki Jean hook and cute punch lines. It’s not great, and stands out for that reason; few Ali songs reek of “this is my first single guys!” than this does.
“Electric Energy” is a perfect spiraling of claps and booms that proves definitively that Jake One’s has the ability to make his hard stuff soft enough for Ali’s material. The song is a diagnosis of the groupie-rapper relationship which showcases Ali’s ability to narrate a story from the female characters perspective. “Casually touching his shoulder and hand, he telling corny ass jokes but she laughs. It was over before it began, she said her ex boyfriend was a fan. She bout to upgrade while getting back at him.” Then switch to an omniscient narrator. “He’s talking bout ‘all these bitches in the party want to fuck me.’ He treats them the way he feels…which is ugly.” At points his ability to tell a story from different angles merits Slick Rick comparison.
His collaborations with Phonte have been very good historically. Phonte has a lot of fun on the verse, but Ali doesn’t play well with others. He needs the whole song to breathe. The last four of the seven songs are when he hits his zone. “Years” is one of those getting to know you moments where he discusses his first marriage so frankly in poetically personal moments that it leaves no one to compare him too. “That old tree witnessed the first love we made. I pulled out my pocket knife, gave it our names. But like trees it went and grew rings and that carving got harder to read from farther away.”
The EP is worth repeated listening; even the songs that don’t come together have brilliance in them. There is a lesson to be learned from this EP: How to make rap love songs. You make them the same way you make any song: You respect all of your audience, and you tell the story, making sure that you know what you mean. Never once do you get the impression that Ali has left parts of these characters unexamined, on the title track he does it with joy, flaunting the scars he’s acquired over the gentle horns and great samples. Like Brother Ali himself, Bite Marked Heart is quietly inspirational.
You can Download Bite Marked Heart at the link below