Brother Ali Carries on Tradition With ‘All the Beauty in This Whole Life’ Album
In an era where rap fans' constant hunger for new material is nearly insatiable, it takes an artist of a certain caliber to be able to create music at their own pace while still being able to generate a buzz and demand around their art—regardless of how long they've been removed from the scene. Attention spans may be shorter than they've ever been, resulting in a paint-by-numbers approach becoming the template many rappers have adopted, but Brother Ali is one who has bucked this trend, taking his time with every project and putting the quality of his music before the chase for relevance. The rapper has come out of hibernation with his new album, All the Beauty in This Whole Life, the sixth LP in the Minneapolis-based MC's catalog and his first since 2012's Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color.
On All the Beauty in This Whole Life, Brother Ali puts together a collection of songs that speak to his strength and vulnerability, as well as gives even more insight into the man behind the mic himself. Produced entirely by Ant of Atmosphere, who has worked alongside Ali on previous releases, All the Beauty in This Whole Life is an album that finds Ali examining the more serene sides of life, but also addressing its ills and the pain that comes as a byproduct of it.
Preceding the album's introductory selection, "Pen to Paper," is a poem by Amir Sulaiman, whom sets the stage for Brother Ali, who gives a history of his relationship with both writing instruments. "Put pen to paper the first time when I was barely eight or maybe nine that was the late eighties, Reagan time," he rhymes, over piano keys and measured horns.
A devout Muslim and one of the more outspoken artists in rap, Brother Ali also touches on the backlash he's received due to his political stances and views, with lyrics like, "The U.S. government profiled me and the sponsors dropped me/Some of my listeners felt a way so they no longer got me/I knew that telling that truth is costly no one alive can stop me/I rolled that flag out on the ground and prostrated my body." His lyrics serve as a defiant retort. Featuring a sample of "Ernie" by New Zealand band Fat Freddy’s Drop, "Pen to Paper" brings you into Brother Ali's mind state, with his diction commanding the listener's full attention as he gets his point across.
"You're not using your heart for what hearts are for," Brother Ali advises on "Own Light (What Hearts Are For)," the lead single from All the Beauty in This Whole Life. Powered by drums and an electric guitar, the soundscape is one which the rapper utilizes to inspire. "They've been trying to shut us down our whole life/I thank God for healing, you ain't got to get me lit, I got my own light," he delivers, marveling at the joys of spirituality and inner peace.
Not one to rely heavily on features, Brother Ali keeps the guest appearances to a minimum once again on All the Beauty in This Whole Life, but does bring in a few costars to ride shotgun and lend their own contributions to the festivities. Rhymesayers artists DeM atlaS appears on the hook and bridge of "Special Effects," a song that examines how technology can stunt our communication and interactions as humans, with Ali lamenting its effects. "I don't want to see you in a screen/I want to feel you in the flesh and on the scene/I love all the words and what it mean/But it's so much to say in the spaces in between," he raps.
Continuing to keep things in-house, Brother Ali links with female spitter Sa-Roc on "We Got This," but the album's more memorable moments come when the thoughtful lyricist is flying solo, as he does on "Can't Take That Away," an optimistic offering made in the name of perseverance and love. "Dear Black son, there's people you've never met/Who fear and hate you for something that you never did," Brother Ali warns on "Dear Black Son," a solemn composition that finds the emcee attempting to explain the root of the world's hatred and fear of young Black men from the vantage point of a concerned father. "They lied when they said it was the bottom where you started/You were a king long before them ships departed," the Rhymesayers Entertainment artist proclaims, scoffing at the narrative that Black men's history began with slavery on what is among All the Beauty in this Whole Life's more poignant offerings.
Additional standouts from Brother Ali's latest long player include "Pray for Me," which explores his experiences as an albino, the lessons learned and the pain endured, and "Tremble," the latter of which finds him touching on the supernatural and the spiritual. "It's from the unseen realm where the camera can't film/But the coal gets scorched into diamonds in the kiln/Created and evolved, the khaliq and the rabb/The sun, moon and the stars, Alhamdulillah," he rhymes on "Tremble."
With the 2016 presidential election, police brutality and extremist rhetoric all impacting the country and bringing the topic of race back to the forefront, Brother Ali gives his own two cents on "Before They Called You White," a scathing look at the history of Caucasians and their oppressive tendencies. "Nobody called themselves white several centuries ago/They were living off the land with the trees," Brother Ali delivers over tambourines, violins and drums, while taking to task those that knowingly benefit from their privilege. "Take the sword for example/No matter how hard, it can't carve its own handle," he notes, an indictment if there ever was.
Vocalist Idris Phillips joins Brother Ali on "The Bitter Apple," which touches on porn addiction and culminates with an interlude from Amir Sulaiman. All the Beauty in This Whole Life reaches an apex with "Out of Here," an intense selection that finds the MC reconciling the suicides of his father and grandfather in the form of an open letter. "Okay so it might appear/To an outsider that you found your way up out of here/They're saying you died of suicide/That's the last thing I want to hear," Brother Ali begins, conveying his initial denying before going through the motions of blaming himself and attempting to make sense of the loss endured. "How many times can you fight for your life before you throw that white flag up and volunteer?" The topic on "Out of Here" is heavy, but one which speaks to the evocative brilliance of Brother Ali, and All the Beauty in This Whole Life as a whole.
Brother Ali's output may not be as prolific as some of his peers and contemporaries, but his penchant for quality and his ability to convey emotions that resonate with humans from any and all walks of life is what sets him apart and puts him in a rare class of rapper. All the Beauty in This Whole Life continues that tradition. Over the course of the album's 15 tracks, Brother Ali reminds those that may have forgot that he is among the more gifted and poetic lyricists in rap, with All the Beauty in This Whole Life serving as the latest evidence of his greatness.
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