The first time I ever heard Brother Ali was live on stage, opening up for his label mate Slug. I had the chance to speak with Ali for some time before the show and after that experience, I was expecting a lot. I had my doubts though; not in Ali, but in the reception he would receive. With only an obscure tape to his name, I knew that very few in the crowd knew who he was. Not to mention, everyone was there to see Slug. That wasn’t my real concern though. Brother Ali is an albino; he is bald, pale, with red eyes, one of which is lazy. He was wearing faded jeans and a nylon Adidas coat, he looked more like a soundman than the opening act. I have been to my share of hip-hop shows, and I know cats tend to player hate. It took 30 seconds, a minute max, before Ali turned the place out. Still one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.
Shadows On The Sun is Ali‘s true debut, and he does nothing but shine. Ali packs as much energy and heart into this album as I’ve ever heard, with Atmosphere producer extraordinaire, Ant, matching him every step of the way. That is instantly evident on the opening track Room With A View as Ali gets open over Ant‘s jacked up horns. Versatility is defined in the next several tracks as Ali goes from battle raps (Champion) to tongue-in-cheek storytelling (Prince Charming) to teaching life lessons (Win Some Lose Some). Blah Blah Blah, which features Slug, is just an incredible beat that is dismantled by the emcees talking smack to their peers.
The battle rhymes are dope, but much like Slug, Ali is at his best when he gets personal. Forest Whitiker ranks up there as one of the most inspirational songs I’ve ever heard. If this strength doesn’t hit home, you should probably check your pulse; “hey yo dependin’ on the day, and dependin’ on what I ate/I’m anywhere from 20 to 35 pounds overweight/I’ve got red eyes and one of’ems lazy/and they both squint when the sun shines till I be crazy/I’m albino man I know I’m pink and pale/and I’m hairy everywhere but fingernails/I shave a cranium that ain’t quite shaped right/face type shiny I stay up and write late nights/my wardrobe is jeans and faded shirts/a mixture of what I like and what I wear to work/I’m knock-kneed and got a neck full of razor bumps/I’m not the classic profile of what the ladies want/you might think I’m depressed as can be/but when I look in the mirror I see sexy ass me/and if that’s something you can’t respect then that’s peace/my life’s better without you actually/to anyone out there who’s a little different/I say damn a magazine these is God’s fingerprints/you can call me ugly but can’t take nothing from me/I am who I am you ain’t gotta love me.“
Every song on this album deserves some mention, but unfortunately I am not afforded that kind of space. Just know this, there is not one misstep on this album. From front to back and back to front, Shadows On the Sun is flat out incredible. Ant once again proves he is easily a top-ten producer and Ali has released the best album of the year. I don’t remember the last album I listened to 40 times in a week. If you miss this album, you gotta rethink why you are even listening to hip-hop…this is classic material.