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Brother Ali has been one of my favorite rappers ever since “Shadows on the Sun” came out. I was immediately hooked on the subject matter, rhymes, and flow, and, of course, Ant's (of Atmosphere) production.
In the MySpace days, I was apparently active enough in talking about his music that his wife added me (lots of Islam talk followed, as she was just in the process of converting). (Post MySpace we lost touch, so if you read this T., leave me a comment.) In fact, I am so much into Brother Ali's work that, to this day, he's the only person I ever asked to sign a CD for me. I've taken tons of pictures with artists, but have always found getting autographs too much.
As a young Muslim woman, I was simply so in awe that there was someone with a Muslim approach to things but still modern, unlike a lot of “Islamic music” which tends to be a failed attempt at mixing cool with conservative. As opposed to some other rappers, I've also felt that Brother Ali's development aligned more with my own tastes. That's not to say artists own anybody anything. When someone wants to change the direction their music is going that perfectly fine. It's just that Brother Ali developed in a way that I could still connect with.
“All the Beauty in This Whole Life” is another Ant-produced album so I already knew that the beats were going to be of the quality I was used to with Brother Ali's releases. Lyric-wise, more than many other artists, Ali goes into depth with his private and religious life. I don't expect non-Muslims to relate to this, but for Muslims living in the West, it's incredibly inspiring to hear someone else talk about the ups and downs of faith and the inner struggle that we deal with. Politically, it's no surprise that, on "All the Beauty in This Whole Life," Ali continues to speak for the marginalized: “Dear Black Son,” while personally directed at his own son, speaks for millions of parents of black children in the US and other marginalized groups all over the world.
One of the most interesting tracks on the album is “Uncle Usi Taught Me.” On this track, Ali explains like never before, the difficult positions Muslims in the West find themselves in.
What makes Brother Ali so different as an artist is certainly his willingness to share with us things from his own life, such as his father's and grandfather's suicides in “Out of Here.” How many rappers out there are still willing to get so personal with their audience? This is when you know that somebody's heart is really in it. Those of us who love his work, love it for its honesty and the intimate sharing of emotions with us.
1. "Pen to Paper" (featuring Amir Sulaiman)
2. "Own Light (What Hearts Are For)"
3. "Special Effects" (featuring Dem Atlas)
4. "Can't Take That Away"
5. "Dear Black Son"
6. "We Got This" (featuring Sa-Roc)
7. "Uncle Usi Taught Me"
8. "Pray for Me"
9. "It Ain't Easy"
10. "Never Learn"
12. "Before They Called You White"
13. "The Bitten Apple" (featuring Idris Phillips)
14. "Out of Here"
15. "All the Beauty in This Whole Life"
Half Bulgarian Turk, half German living life as an expat in Greece.
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