Review Summary: Us lies at a precarious crossroads of self-help preaching and black history compendium, succeeding at neither.
In his vehement insistence that his music "blurs racial lines" Brother Ali no longer tries to prove himself on his 4th studio record. In fact, he takes it for granted instead apprising society of its evils and intolerance from the perspective of a devout Muslim. Consequently, Us
continues a two-album slide into mediocrity coming off 2003's career-defining Shadows on the Sun
with more preaching, more retellings of supposedly commonplace ghetto tribulations, and (unfortunately) more of a reversion with respect to both production and lyricism.
In a year where Ali's label, Rhymesayers Entertainment, released a pair of verbally complex and sonically progressive hip-hop records (see P.O.S.'s Never Better
and Eyedea & Abilities' By the Throat
), this move comes across as questionable; Us
reduces his typically unique and circuitous rhyme scheme to something completely simplistic and uninteresting. In addition to the blues that producer A.N.T. attempts to emulate throughout, these easy-to-learn/ lifetime-to-master methods are inadequately represented with a static 12-bar formula and unimaginative rhymes. Where the duo does break from form is where strict adherence would make most sense - "Breakin' Dawn" is an oriental come chain-gang pious piece that suffers only from excessive length and repetition. It's puzzling as to why Ali so willingly abdicates his lyrical throne atop Rhymesayers compatriots, in favor of a monotonous flow and more basic rhyme scheme akin to Slug; some of the beats here are pure gold and feel wasted on this record. Besides some cases of mistaken identity (see his discussion of slavery on "The Travelers"), this production mismatch is the true frustration here as the primary criticism in the past has been exactly the opposite. "Breakin' Dawn", "The Travelers", "Round Here", "Games", and "Slippin' Away" really make one wonder where this iteration of A.N.T. has been; if beats like this existed on Shadows on the Sun
, it would have been an outright classic. As it stands, Us
lies at a precarious crossroads of self-help preaching and black history compendium, succeeding at neither and exposing a serious disconnect between lyricist and producer.