My first experience with Brother Ali came in 2009, following the release of his album Us. Previously, Ali’s name had floated past my ear at various points, usually in the same realm as the phrase “street preacher”. However, I had yet to listen to his music, a fact I instantly regretted when I saw him perform at the Cat’s Cradle in North Carolina. Since hearing the Hip-Hop gospel from his lips on that night, I’ve kept a close eye on Brother Ali, as well as his label Rhymesayers.
Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color marks Brother Ali’s fourth Hip-Hop release and the first one without Atmosphere producer Ant behind the boards. Instead, Seattle beatsmith Jake One resides behind the boards, creating the soundscape for the resident Minneapolis poet to rhyme over. Mix in the 2011 uprisings of the Middle East and the Occupy movements occurring in America and beyond, and you have an album that is both a scathing critique as well as a beacon of hope for the United States of America.
Lyrically, this is Ali at his best. Poignant, socially conscious and pulling no punches, he tackles numerous issues, both personal and social. Ali tackles the familiar issues of his albinism and the struggles of growing up and how it molded him but also takes a more open perspective and looks towards the social ills that plague our country and the greater world.
“Letter To My Countrymen” kicks off the album, an honest & spirited appeal to fellow Americans calling for everybody to come together and help make this a country truly worth living in, with esteemed Dr. Cornel West making a guest appearance towards the end.
“Stop the Press” is much more personal and acts as a semi-autobiography. Ali focuses more on his albinism and the death of his father. He also details his journey through Hip-Hop up until now, describing the challenges and the highs & lows of his life on the road.
“All You Need” is another personal track talking about Ali’s son and the failure of his first marriage. The second verse is particularly strong as Ali tries to explain to his son the reason for his mom leaving but how he should use the pain as strength to shine. The rest of the songs carry in the same vein, whether dealing with the vicious and never-ending cycle and relationship of violence in America (“Mourning inAmerica”) or reaching out to beloved friends who truly touched your lives (“My Beloved”).
The standout track, however, is “Gather Round”, a very strong song that comes as a battle cry detailing the social ills plaguing the world and rallying the masses to “gather round” and take on these issues to change the world, especially when “the times get dire/and the mighty are liars/and the righteous fighting for their lives/get organized and gather round”. Ending with a searing verse from poet Amir Sulaiman’s spoken word piece “Danger”, “Gather Round” seeks to inspire people to rise up and take an active interest in the world around them.
Overall, Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color is another great addition to the Brother Ali discography, an album full of lyrical excellence, critical thought, and burgeoning hope for the future of the world. Ali sticks true to his nickname, the “street preacher”, and enlightens his listeners with perspectives easily relatable yet very open and far-reaching to all types of people. While many rappers turn to material over substance, Ali is still the consistent voice of consciousness in the back of our head, rhyming strong and proud with his voice loud.