Review Summary: Brother Ali returns with the help of Ant and releases a solid, soulful hip-hop album. What it lacks in originality it makes up for in sheer quality, but some more variation would have been nice.
Let's get this over with. Brother Ali is albino.
On 2003's "Shadows on the Sun", the Minnesota born rapper presented the issue with the track Forest Whitaker
. Used as the anthem for anyone who's ever been treated differently, Ali uses the less than stellar appearance of actor Forest Whitaker along side his pale complexion. While the 45 year old actor may not be blessed with the looks of Denzel, his talent and perseverance led him to success. Such is the case with Brother Ali. His complexion is definitely a conversation piece –to disregard this is plain ignorance – and as such, it's a definite selling point. Luckily the fact remains that Brother Ali is good at what he does.
"The Undisputed Truth" is the long awaited follow up to the breakout 2003 album mentioned in the above paragraph. Once again, Ali decides to pair up with Rhymesayers mega-producer Ant, though you have to wonder if there's even a choice anymore. Based on this, one can almost instantly expect crafty beats based on soul samples and catchy hooks. You can also, based on the presence of Ant, expect that while the production will be essentially solid, it'll also be more of the same. If you guessed this, you'd be 98% correct. There is one curveball, and it comes with Truth Is
, the album's lead single. Truth Is
is a reggae-driven track that, when paired with Brother Ali's relatively aggressive (not to be confused with harsh) flow, makes for a captivating and highly enjoyable listen. As always, the production remains relatively unassuming, allowing the focus to remain on the MC, much like with Atmosphere, Ant's main project. Much of the production also seems to be fairly guitar driven, primarily in bluesy rhythms.
If you haven't heard Brother Ali before, imagine a well versed battle rapper with an affinity for personal lyrics, often relating his own experiences and stories to religion (Ali is a practising Muslim) and Government. All of this is delivered with his gravel-soaked, powerful voice.
"The Undisputed Truth" is an album Brother Ali put himself into, quite literally. It's an album he truly believes in. Ali fought his way to where he is, and even still, has been forced to deal with a lot; family drama, political qualms and even reported bouts of homelessness. On Walking Away
, Ali describes the falling out with the mother of his child atop bluesy guitar and simple whistling. On Faheem
, the track which directly follows Walking Away
, guitar carries the personal issues further. Faheem, his son, is obviously expected to listen to the track once he's old enough, as it plays out like a letter, asking him to forgive his father for any bad times, all the while painting a picture of their family situation. Imagine a legitimate take on the 50 or so tracks Eminem has recorded in the same vein.
On Letter from the Government
, he discusses his distaste for the current US political climate by describing a letter he received from the Army Reserves asking him to go to Iraq. As with "Watcha Got", a track that has Ali describing the current state of hip-hop, these are not new topics. That's a fault that carries over as a whole with the album, both thematically and musically.
It's not to say the music isn't solid, it's that the ideas presented are nothing new. The production and beats are reminiscent of basically anything and everything Ant has ever done (I could have sworn I heard remnants of Atmosphere's Blamegame
at one point), and the lyrics, while excellent, are nothing revolutionary. While it's obvious that Ant and Ali are familiar with each other's strengths, I can't help but wonder what could have been had they branched out a little more.
It's hard to say if "The Undisputed Truth" can stand head-to-head against "Shadows on the Sun". Luckily, there's enough quality to be found to make comparisons a moot point. In many ways it's more of the same, but it does seem to improve upon the formula ever-so-slightly. Still, "Shadows on the Sun" will probably remain on top. Solid stuff as a whole, but there's still something missing. I think the word I'm looking for is 'variation'.