I know Outkast won a Grammy, and I know Jay-Z released his apparent swan song. I loved both the albums, and I think they deserve every bit of recognition they got. But fuck what you heard. “Shadows on the Sun” was the best album to be released in 2003. In fact, I think it was the best album to be released in a few years. For the unaware, “Shadows on the Sun” was the true debut of Brother Ali; part introspective thinker, part storyteller, part battle rhymer, all emcee.
With another LP with Atmosphere beatsmith Ant in the works, Ali and Rhymesayers hit us with a little snack to tide us over in the form of the “Champion EP.” Kicked off by a remix of “Champion,” Ali puts us on notice over the songs newfound reggae influence that he is just beginning. Over the course of the album, it is evident that Ali has gotten better as an emcee since his last album. Not only from a technical aspect, but in putting even more of his soul into his music (I didn’t believe that was possible). Ant also continues to spread his wings, providing more incredible soundscapes encapsulating influences from rock, blues, soul, and reggae. Ali is battle ready with his dukes up on “Bad Ma Fucka,” and it is as fun as always. Yet it is always his most rewarding work when he gets personal, which he does very often here. His somewhat subliminal venting is rather discreet over the obese horns of “Sleepwalker,” but his gut-spilling is much quite blunt elsewhere.
“Rain Water” is undoubtedly the magnum opus here. With 6 minutes of Ant’s unbelievably moving production, Ali just puts it all out there like few are willing; “he can’t do shit right but rap and make babies/and babies need daddy’s home consistent/but rap keep daddy on the road religious/so even in my two loves my souls so conflicted/my son came into this world innocent/and he deserves everything he needs to live in it/and this home I made for his is broken/I’m hopin’ his love for me will never grow thin/it hurts daddy to no end and no win/your crying at the hospital/I’m out trying to rock a show/I made a vow that we’d never be broke again/and I’d never be a burden on another friend.” “Chain Link” is a vivid look at poverty from Ali’s eyes, adding even more depth to his character. Even his fans are a cause of some frustration as he pines that “Kris references and no one will get that shit,” and asks “imagine what a trip it is rapping for these little shits/that think djing was created by Mr. Dibbs,” and gets sarcastic “I downloaded parents cause I heard they’re overrated.” And that is just from the first few lines of “Love on Display.” He goes on to tear into himself for being an absent father due to spending so much time on the road touring. Over one of Ant’s nicer soul selections to date (“Heads Down”), Ali talks females, taking a different approach than most.
Like his album of last year, this EP is required material for anyone with good taste. Ali’s status as an emcee continues to grow as he puts another chapter, albeit a small one, in his book. I’m certainly looking forward to turning the page.