When viewed alongside underground emcees content with whining about Hip Hop’s supposed morbid state, Brother Ali has made a distinct mark with a much greater mission over the past decade. Using music as a form of therapy, he has carved a niche making fearless songs that are candid snapshots of his life, and as a healer he has applied Mos Def’s infamous idea that the health of our culture reflects that of the people in it. His latest call to arms, Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color is Ali’s fifth full length release with steady attempts at elevating the masses.
With this effort appropriately centered around the dawn of the upcoming Presidential election, the conscious minded Brother Ali is determined to change society through his compositions without angrily shouting from a soapbox. This present phase of his career finds the Rhymesayers veteran in transition, creatively splitting from frequent producer Ant of Atmosphere (addressed along with deaths of loved ones, marriage woes, and similar struggles to transpire since 2009’s Us on the soul baring “Stop the Press”) as Jake One becomes the new foil for his forceful delivery. The pride of Seattle handles complete duties behind the boards, helping Brother Ali execute the same introspective and progressive vision he has come to be revered for while simultaneously updating his sound to give a platform to more recent experiences and ideas.
Rather a concerned citizen than a run of the mill enlightened rapper, most of the album finds Brother Ali waxing poetic on pivotal issues affecting the United States in this day and age. Where “Only Life I Know” empathizes with the tortured suffering of the economic crisis, the soulful “Work Everyday” is dedicated to the plight of laymen striving to make ends meet, topics barely considered by common entertainers. Likewise, “Mourning In America” draws a parallel between the country’s harsh ghettos and overseas wars, as “Gather Round” is a riveting cry for civic action, both providing strong cases for his inclusion amongst the ranks of modern art’s leaders.
Never shying away from speaking on personal matters, “All You Need” continues Brother Ali’s series of relaying the grief brought on by his son’s mother. While this a departure from the conceptual theme as is “Won More Hit” which compares recording industry practices to the slave trade, neither manage to take focus from the bigger picture. If one were to pick a weaker point, “Need A Knot” is a Southern throwaway too far removed from the Minneapolis spitter’s core to easily digest on this otherwise relatable work. In a world that is on the verge of hopelessness, Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color takes an inspiring and heartfelt stance, representing another triumph for the resilient and complex orator Brother Ali.