Music Review: Brother Ali’s “Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color”

Chase CunninghamFeatures Writer |

On Sept. 18, just in time for election season, Brother Ali released his fifth politically and socially charged studio album “Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color.”

Midwest born and bred, Ali is a member of the Minnesota-based hip-hop hulk label Rhymesayers Entertainment. He built his reputation around aggressive content and vulgar delivery that even some in the hip-hop community shy away from, by simultaneously destroying and encouraging the culture he finds himself in with tracks like “Palm the Joker.” Controversy has always been a part of his career, but this time, Ali raises the stakes even higher.

The album’s opener, “Letter to My Countrymen,” is a surprisingly vulnerable and optimistic track. Ali calls it an “invitation” to involvement. But his purpose is still to “shine a spotlight on suffering,” and the early positive vibes are hard to remember while being blasted by the dramatic horns and hard delivery of the fourth track, “Mourning in America.”

In other verses in the first half of the album, Ali preaches on unemployment, racism and consumerism, and even dreams of an American riot similar to those in Libya and Egypt. The tracks are dark and heavy, full of distortion and percussion, and bombarded by bass and brass. Violence is not only accepted, it is practically encouraged. Respite from both the issues at hand and the anger in the music is necessary.

After the first eight tracks, Ali takes a break from the cultural message to spit some of the rawest verses of the album. Although “Say Amen” is essentially an intermission, it definitely delivers a message of its own. Ali degrades the mainstream rap that he believes is corrupting the art form, and unapologetically denounces the cultural stereotypes that come with being a rapper. Even though his success as an artist has never been higher, he fights to keep his of-the-people image.

The second half of the album brings back the optimism of the opening track as Ali turns from mourning to dreaming. Here he explains his rebirth into Islam at age 15, lectures his son on wholesome living and challenges his culture to join a reformation of love. The tracks have changed from foreboding and loud to relaxed and smooth, with jazzy vibes and lighter samples. Every track features some kind of vocal sample, and these voices lead up to the final track “Singing this Song” where Ali joins the choir as just another voice delivering the message of unity and hope.

Although it is heard through headphones and amps, “Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color” is more than just music.  Ultimately, his music isn’t about him. It’s about the people, and “whether or not we’re going to be human beings again.”

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