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  Brother Ali - Us (2XLP)
Brother Ali - Us (2XLP)
Brother Ali - Us (2XLP)


 
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Brother Ali - Us (2XLP) While hip-hop struggles to redefine itself after years of standing on the precipice of self-parody, experimenting with pop, electronica, and dance, Brother Ali continues to remind listeners what's so good about the pure form: the stories, the intricate sentences, the wordplay, the rhymes (and Rhymesayers bigshot Ant shows how good production not based on samples can be). Us, the rapper's third full-length, is a strong record that emphasizes the substance and power of the genre, the message and the ability to convey it his most important tasks. Ali is, above all, a storyteller, hell-bent on making his characters as believable as possible, and he does so with an amazing amount of empathy. While there is an unfortunate hypocrisy in the hip-hop world to speak of freedom and equality while also ignoring or perpetuating other stereotypes and intolerances, Ali is unafraid to defend all marginalized groups. Inner-city kids, abused women, his fans, his family, kids growing up in broken homes, minorities, and, most distinguishably, gays and lesbians, all find themselves with a well-spoken defender and supporter ("'Cause there ain't no flame that blaze enough/To trump being hated for the way you love," he says in "Tight Rope"). The downside of this is that sometimes the MC feels a little too preachy, a little too earnest. In "Babygirl" and "The Travelers," for example, although both are well-meaning and occasionally poignant, he can come across as heavy-handed ("Our identity is hinged upon/The miserable myth we've been taught since we were born" is too much of a mouthful, and feels like something from a high-school poetry slam), a little too focused on getting his point across. Which makes, in contrast (and unusually), his boastful tracks some of the best on the album. Ali's generally melodic flow tightens and sharpens in "Bad Mufucker Pt. 2," which has a nice Dungeon Family feel, and "Best@It ," featuring excellent verses from Freeway and Joell Ortiz ("These rappers starting to look like them pork chops you smother/Mmm, slap me your fork, damn right I eat pork/I'm sick, I dine on the swine flu with every thought"), finds Ali at his best: smart, aware, grateful, and proud, voice getting rougher the further into his bars he gets, his energy palpable. The songs on Us are long -- most track in past four minutes -- and the album can start to drag during some of the later verses, but as a statement on the health of hip-hop, it's an assured yes that all is well. ~ Marisa Brown, All Music Guide

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