#BandcampGold-All The Beauty in This Whole Life by Brother Ali
The first Brother Ali album in five years is a lot to digest. It is the reunion of one of hip hop’s greatest partnerships. The underground forced Ali to record with Jake One because Jake brought out a different Ali in collaborations. Fans wanted a change but I didn’t. I love Jake One but the bond that Rhymesayers producer Ant and Ali have goes so much deeper than on-paper skills. They lived near each other and Ali would walk to his house where they collaborated on projects that literally changed and formed post 2k underground hip hop. You could feel the friendship as an intangible in the music. That chemistry is something that needs to be celebrated.
Ali being one of the wisest scholars of hip hop knows the importance of destroying the first track. Pen To Paper is only two minutes and thirty eight seconds but he goes back to battle rap mode and erupts triumphant bars over Ant’s horn and bass backdrop. This album is not for bangers, however. One of the takeaways from All The Beauty in This Whole Life is that hip hop needs more (less insulting) subgenres. No one should listen to the tragic and intelligent dissection of racism and police violence perpetrated on the black community (Dear Black Son) and have to compare it to Bad and Boujee. Nothing against Migos, Culture is a monster album. These are just musicians accomplishing different things. Ali’s pen presses so deeply that a one listen cheat review isn’t going to be enough. We need to think of these different dimensions within the culture as different kinds of clothing. You don’t get dressed in the morning and say “Pants are way better than shirts!” You need it all and appreciate that you have it.
All The Beauty in This Whole Life isn’t built around the anthemic stuff Ali is known for. Around the 2009 album US it seemed like Ali would transition into the pop rap world. That transition never happened and in 2017 his release has a B-side attitude that doesn’t sacrifice any space from its creative vision. It is that mid-tempo cohesion that glues all the songs together, you can go from Special Effects to Can’t Take That Away without ever feeling overwhelmed by the intense lyricism at hand. The beats still bang and Ali has a dynamic flow/consistency in his lyrical design that makes the tougher moments easier to take. As an example, We Got This sounds triumphant with the upbeat piano but Ali is not mincing words “If she asks me about it I got to be honest. Either they forgot about us or they got a target on us. My niece is shooting amateur porno, police shoot my nephews in the street like its normal but they been doing that a century or like four though. It’s horrible. Still pains me to my core though.”
Brother Ali is one of the few rappers I don’t know that my family feels like we do know. He has verses so vividly rendered that they get stamped on you. You feel his triumphs and sorrow. This album focuses on that. I’ll never forget the frustration of Uncle Usi Taught Me and its masterful airport story ending. Out of Here is a song about suicide that explores all the emotional reactions to the event, a thoughtful meditation that will leave you needing to recuperate. Before They Called You White is a fiery and probably controversial take on racial history but unlike political songs he’s done in the past this one is considerate to all parties involved and benefits from a three dimensional heart. You can’t listen to it and think Brother Ali is mad at white people.
I met him a few times. He came to a local record store and I waited in line, I declined the autograph (not my thing) but asked him very specifically about a review in a major publication that completely misread a concept song he did and slammed it. I asked him how he dealt with that so continually. Most rappers would have blustered a “F_ them” response but Ali really paused. He said it’s the hardest part of the whole deal, that you spend so much time pouring your heart into a project and the people criticizing it give it a mere passing glance and disregard it. They twist what they hear into something it isn’t and apply their own bias. That conversation is one of the reasons I wanted this blog. I wanted to write about music in a way that wasn’t intended to humiliate anyone but to stand in awe of work well done. Listen to the title track of All The Beauty in This Whole Life and get seduced by the fabulous hook and sincerity of the message or listen to the first verse or Tremble where Ali starts “I’m a man not a brand. Heart nose no barcode that can be scanned. Revealing what can’t be held up in the hand; bearer of the standard that you cram to understand,” over rippling bass. Even if you don’t get the MC Lyte reference at the end you comprehend how deeply he drops himself into a project and he never holds it against other rappers who don’t. He’s made a choice to exist in a specific place and be heard in a certain way. As one of his fans I just hope he continues to be happy there.
Stream and BUY All The Beauty in This Whole Life below: