Brother Ali, the smooth voiced albino Muslim from Minneapolis, has 17 years of hip hop under his belt.
In that time he has relentlessly sought to deliver thick rhymes full of personal reflection, as well as heavy-handed thoughts on the social and political climate.
He never misses an opportunity to spit truths regardless of the discomfort they drum up within us. Because buried in the lines exposing the disparity of race and social class in this country, he fills in the cracks with love.
“All The Beauty in This Whole Life” is Ali’s fifth full length album (with many EPs and mixtapes in between). It highlights more than ever the importance of extending love and respect to fellow humans and the benefits that can result when we do.
Like much of Brother Ali’s previous work, this album was produced by Anthony “Ant” Davis (aka one half of Atmosphere). Ant’s production for Brother Ali and for Atmosphere could be called the foundation of the “Minneapolis hip hop sound”. His beats and instrumental additions are organic in an analog way, with cracks in the film.
There is an inherent simplicity in his creations that complement the rapper versus making smoke and mirrors to conceal less than stellar rhymes. Horns and keys are prevalent, giving Ali’s songs a throwback-summer-in-Harlem-vibe. Ali’s voice goes over like dark chocolate. It’s serious, slightly sweet, smooth, but not for the weak at heart. He can be aggressive when the moment calls, but mostly soothing, like musical aroma therapy. Ali calls out often to a higher power, invoking a level of spirituality, yet it does not intimidate or alienate non-believers.
The first single “Own Light (What Hearts Are For)” observes how we often go looking for light elsewhere when we should be looking in the mirror. The sunny guitar lick is Ali’s version of a friend kicking your butt to make you a better person. He points out the nefarious nature of materialism and how true happiness comes from inside. On this track and others, he uses modern day slang and tech jargon in puns, extending a hand to today’s younger generation.
All The Beauty would not be complete without a couple heartbreakers. One being “Can’t Take That Away.” On this track he gives beautiful real life professions of love to his wife. Instead of taking the usual love song stance of showering his subject in compliments, Ali acknowledges her shortcomings and promises to love her for them, through them, because of them. “When you make mistakes, my heart is the place where they’re safe.” Ladies across the land sigh in unison.
The second one, “Dear Black Son,” he performed at Rhymesayers 20 in December last year. No one had heard it before then and the moment was incredibly moving. To hear it in its full form would put tears into the eyes of any parent. The acknowledgement of the injustices his son may face and his hopes and dreams for his child are things parents of any color can relate to.
When you listen to Brother Ali, you’re on his journey. You’re at his church. Even if you do not share his beliefs, it’s impossible not to enjoy his sermon. Brother Ali is Muslim, which some people stereotype as evil, but the way he raps about the human condition and how we should treat each other is anything but. If Brother Ali had a church, I would join. I suspect others would too. His message of love is constant and unyielding. He’s been known to say real love isn’t about loving your partner or your mom or your uncle. Real love is about showing love to someone you hate. That is a message we need so much right now as politics continue to divide us. All The Beauty in This Whole Life is a reminder we’re all humans trying to find our way, wanting the same end goals. Brother Ali delivers this message beautifully and uncensored.
Sarah Osterbauer is the SouthernMinn Scene music columnist and critic. She loves to meet the people who make the city’s heart beat (and sometimes break). Follow her on twitter @SarahOwrites.