If you've never heard of Brother Ali, then you're missing out. The Minneapolis based MC's second LP, The Undisputed Truth is a brilliant piece of heartfelt hip hop. To understand the music, it helps to have a cursory understanding of the man. Ali (born Jason Newman) grew up in Madison, WI, but left home at the age of 15 and moved to Minneapolis, which is when he began his involvement in hip hop. Despite reports that have been written to the contrary, Brother Ali is not a "black albino muslim." He is albino, and is muslim, but is of the caucasian race. That doesn't really matter in the long run, because white or black, he's damn good at what he does.
If you've ever heard any music from Rhymesayers Entertainment, the Minneapolis based record company that Ali is signed to, then you probably have at least heard music produced by Ant. Ant is, in my opinion, a genius. Between his work with Slug on Atmosphere's albums, and the production work that he does with most of the label's other projects, he's crafted some of the greatest hip hop instrumentals of the past decade. He's right up there with Pete Rock in my opinion.
His work on The Undisputed Truth is more brilliance. Just listen to the hip hop meets reggaeton beat of "Truth Is." Brother Ali has stated in interviews that Ant really takes his job seriously, and that job is to create music specifically for the MC he's partnering with at that time. There is not a beat on the album that sounds out of place, fully complimenting everything that Brother Ali does with his lyrics and his voice, creating a truly complete song.
Ali's voice is very versatile. He can be forceful, forthright, and extremely aggressive. If you listen to the opening track "Whatcha Got," which has a sort of a rap/rock vibe to it, you'll hear this for sure. However, he contrasts that with songs like "Lookin' at me Sideways" which features a fairly traditional hip hop flow over a bluesy beat, and a softer, laid back hook. This contrasts further with the laid back, lilting sing song hook of "Take Me Home" (one of my favorite songs on the album).
However, when you look at the lyrics, you get a true taste of the meat of the album. Ali goes from boastful ("Our strength is unrelated to your weakness/Cause you'll never be a worthy pool of peers to be competed with"), to thoughtful ("I was right there for your first breath/I used to lay you on my chest when you slept/I fed you, changed you, read to you, bathed you/I'm not trying to hold that over your head/I'm saying thank you"), to political ("Welcome to the united snakes/Land of the thief, home of the slave/Grand imperial guard where the dollar is sacred/And Power is God"). Throughout the album, he consistently weaves a blanket of lyrics that full cover every topic that he decides to explore.
Ali is an extremely versatile MC, with a lot of talent and a lot of skill. Add in the backup he gets from ANT, and the promotion he's been getting from Rhymesayers, and I think we're seeing a man who will be a force in underground hip hop for a long time.