Brother Ali – Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color
Brother Ali has long been one of my favorite MC’s. I saw him open for Atmosphere ten or so years ago and he outshined everyone on the bill that night. I’ve followed his career ever since. He’s one of the most open, honest and thoughtful rappers out there. His music has so much soul to it and a big part of that has always been the production, handled exclusively by Ant from Atmosphere. So when Ali announced that his next album was being produced by Jake One, I was a little disappointed. I’ve never really felt Jake Ones production, so I prepared myself for a disappointment.
Earlier this year, Ali dropped a free EP, “The Bite Marked Heart” that was produced by Jake One. It was my first taste of what the new album might be and, unfortunately, I was still disappointed. The EP was missing something, the cohesive soul of classic the Ant/Ali collaborations just wasn’t there.
Over the last several months, the press started coming out about the album and while I have been a little apprehensive, I was still excited to hear it and finally this week, the full length finally came out.
The album starts off with “Letter to My Countrymen”, where Ali discusses his belief in America, even with all its imperfections, stating “I wanna make this country what it says it is.” The song sets the tone for the rest of the album, there’s an overarching themes of frustration with the state of America but that is underscored by a genuine desire to make America and the world a better place. Songs like “Only Life I Know”, “All You Need” and “My Beloved” focus on life and personal love, as well as the trials of life. “Stop the Press” goes into the various trials Ali has faced over the last few years. It’s here that he shows an open honesty about his life, talking about the tragic deaths of Eyedea and his father’s suicide. “Mourning in America” tackles America’s love of war. It’s through these various subjects that he critiques the country but also offers some hope.
While all of his albums have had a strong element of social commentary “Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color” is his most overtly political. But unlike other political records, the album isn’t a condemnation of America, it’s a love letter in a sense, it’s an album full of hope and a desire for change. The album immediately reminded me a favorite quote by Che Guevara:
“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality… We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.”
Ali shows great love for his friends, his family and people in general and it’s that personal nature of the album that makes it accessible to everyone. His experiences make him relatable and listening to this album offers a certain comfort, knowing you’re not alone in your struggles.
This is an excellent album and it’s a shoe-in for Hip-Hop album of the year. The artwork is pretty cool too. It features an 80 panel folding poster that has the lyrics on one side and a custom painted American Flag poster on the reverse.