Raise your hand if you discovered Lupe Fiasco through his brilliant FnF mixtapes, only to be somewhat underwhelmed by his major-label debut. If you’re flashing armpit right now then rundontwalk to wherever you buy music and snatch up Brother Ali’s latest release, Undisputed Truth. I mean it. Stop listening now. Go. Go!
Im the first to admit that Im late to discover Brother Ali, the albino Muslim born Jason Newman, but better late than never. -Undisputed Truth marks him as one of the greatest, most powerful voices in hip hop of the 2000s. But I bet most of you have never even heard of him.
Ali has been on the Rhymesayers Entertainment label (home of Slug (of Atmosphere) and Ant) since 2000, spitting tracks like “Win Some, Lose Some” and “Forest Whitiker,” which talk about his experience being different, being bullied, but coming out on the side a more powerful, more grounded person than just about any other voice in hip hop today. Mature, meaningful words that take responsibility and uplift without
demeaning anyone–ANYoneor looking for enemies to blame, which is most unusual for both black power and hip hop in general.
The new album is autobiographical. He sings about his divorce, becoming a homeless single father but not like Pursuit of Happyness homeless (Faheem), and being reborn as a Muslim out of a need to destroy his past identity (Freedom Aint Free). And he avoids guest stars and skits, creating an album with as clear a point of view as Nas Illmatic.
The production, also, is top notch. Ant (of Atmosphere) is behind the boards for most the action, but hes branching out from alt-rap into reggae, ska, and funk. The tracks are revelatory, and the arrangement constantly surprising.
It all starts Watcha Got, a head-nodder, is a straight-up banger, complete with yes yes yalls and a menacing, Terminator X style beat. But right after it, Lookin at me Sideways, which has a bouncing beat but is introspective gangsta music. Then comes Truth Is, the single, about how the street life isn’t enough. (I want more! Im back to demand I want more!) Daylight has a 1970s disco sample that I just cant place, and is a strong contender for a second single. But my favorite cut has to be Freedom Aint Free. In the spirit of Bob Marleys Johnny Was a Good Man, Freedom Aint Free tells of death on the streets being reborn into conscious power: Take whats given, thats your decision, I just dont consider that living.
Theres not a weak track here. No bling. No bull. As honest as Joe Budden, but with more flow, and as smart as Lupe Fiasco. As well produced as anything Kanye or Jay-Z ever rhymed on, and as cohesive as a Public Enemy album.