Album Review: Brother Ali- All the Beauty in This Whole Life

brotherali album art

Brother Ali, a Madison, WI native based out of Minneapolis, MN recently released his sixth studio album, titled All the Beauty in This Whole Life, on Rhymesayers Entertainment. Ali once again teamed up with Ant (producer for Atmosphere), who he’s worked with almost exclusively in the past save for his previous album, Mourning in America Dreaming in Color, which was produced by Jake One.

For nearly two decades Brother Ali has been spreading messages of love, hope and acceptance contrasted at times with anger, struggle and reprisal. Ali suffers from albinism, a disorder characterized by lack of pigment in the skin, which consequently led to enduring social stigma throughout his childhood. A number of his works portray instances where he was discriminated against because of his condition followed by moments of personal triumph as he overcame his abusers and the mentality associated with defeat.

As a father, Ali often writes songs for his son, Faheem, providing him guidance or letting him know how difficult it is to be a parent who has to make tough decisions. He raps, “I can’t protect you like I want to,” a line that breathes truth to any parent, that no matter what you do to protect your children, they will at some point be subjected to the dangers of the world. In fact, sometimes, all you can do is pray.

Religious themes have become somewhat of a motif in Brother Ali’s later albums. Ali converted to Islam at the age of 15 and is now a practicing Imam. Although religious messages exist in his music, they are not bold advertisements coaxing listeners to follow Allah, rather they are a proclamation of his own spiritual journey to find peace and understanding through God.

In addition, many themes of social justice have been incorporated into his music. He raps frequently about racial inequality, slavery and the U.S. government’s trends to exploit minorities and the working class. He has been arrested in the past for occupying a house in Minneapolis to fight against its foreclosure. He was also recently trapped in Iran after giving a speech on the significance of Black Lives Matter and performing his song, “Uncle Sam Goddamn” on the Combat Jack Show.

Unbeknownst to Ali, and as luck would have it, hip hop music is illegal in Iran, and the event had been televised through all the major broadcasting networks. This led to accusations by leaders of the Nation of Islam calling him a terrorist and stating he was aligned with ISIS. Death threats and lax security at his hotel caused him to flee but his escape was halted when he found his credit cards, phone service and airplane ticket had all been voided. Brother Ali sat at the airport for three days without money or food! His song, “Uncle Usi Taught Me” explains the event in detail.

That said, All the Beauty in This Whole Life does not disappoint in its delivery of Brother Ali’s most crucial topics. “Own Light (What Hearts Are For),” the first single on the album, conveys a message of rejection for the lives we as a whole are sold in order to keep us subdued. Ali raps, “And you know they want to paint us with the same brush / Wanna entertain us ’til we fill our grave up.”

He explains that we’ve been manipulated and controlled through our desires. We’re raised to believe we need to reach certain plateaus in life or we’ve failed. Those ideals cause us to spend our lives worrying about things that for the majority will never be achievable. Ali gives praise to God for helping him overcome these unnecessary desires. He raps, “They’ve been trying to shut us down our whole life / I thank God for healing / You ain’t got to get me lit, I got my own light.”

The production on the track is a gorgeous mix of layered keys, guitars, bass and drums, classic boom bap. There are some smooth vocal parts in the background that fill out and add depth to the beat as well. Ant is known for quality beats that have a soulful, vintage feel to them. Brent Bradley of DJ Booth wrote, “The production on this album crackles with the warmth of secondhand vinyl even in digital form.” I would agree. This beat sounds like something Kanye West or Ryan Lewis (producer for Macklemore) would have produced.

In addition, the music video is visually stunning and opens doors to the imagination.

The second single off the album, “Never Learn,” is one of my personal favorites. It’s the most unique beat on the album. Lyrically it has a battle-rap quality similar to something off of Shadows on the Sun. The instrumental feels like it could be on a soundtrack of a Quentin Tarantino film. Furthermore, it reminds me of production from Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet, or earlier works such as Portishead’s Dummy.

Brother Ali sings the chorus in a soulful, sorrowful tone as if he were singing “Strange Fruit” by Nina Simone.

“I don’t know where to turn 
I hit my head I guess I’ll never learn
But they tell me I should let it bleed, let it sting, let it burn
Get my head firm”    

Once again, the music video is visually stunning, no doubt a lot of time, energy and resources went into these marvels.

Additionally, “Out of Here” is one of the most emotional tracks on the album. The song addresses Ali’s struggles in dealing with the suicide of both his father and grandfather. He raps that he felt to blame for their deaths and wished they had given him a chance to sit and listen. Maybe he could’ve helped them. Toward the end of the track Ali questions his own life and its importance because sadly, the men in his family have all died young. He raps, “Every man before me in my fam died by his own hands / How am I supposed to understand my own role in this plan / When nobody who grows old stands a chance?”

The beat sounds similar to “Don’t Ever F**king Question That” off of Atmosphere’s Lucy Ford EP (another great album produced by Ant), however, it has a much better dynamic range. The beat comes in as you would expect with any boom bap beat, but it soon dissipates into a single acoustic piano riff. As the track progresses, subtle guitar strums chime in between the rhythmic phrasing of Ali’s lines. The minimal nature of the track makes for the perfect canvas for Ali to paint his emotions on.

All in all, the album was well crafted. Ant is a great producer. At times he can be a bit methodical with his production (intro, verse, chorus, repeat), but it pairs well with Brother Ali’s storytelling and preacher-like delivery. The uplifting beats on the album sometimes clash with the darker lyrical themes, but it’s almost necessary to keep you from becoming depressed.What Brother Ali is saying can sound ominous, but he doesn’t want you to feel like it’s the end of the world. He wants you to keep your head up, and if you find you can’t, find God.

How did you feel about the album? Feel free to leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you!

Also, if you are a Brother Ali fan or would like to purchase other albums from his discography, click here.

#FreeFriday: Back to Black

Time for our third edition of #FreeFriday! Each week we’ll review an album, and give it away to one lucky winner. For a chance to win the album, all you have to do is read this post, then share on social media at least one of these ways:

  • Share this blog post on Twitter—use the hashtag #FreeFriday and tag @murfiemusic
  • Retweet one of the #FreeFriday tweets we send via @murfiemusic
  • Share our #FreeFriday Facebook post (in a public post)

Now, on to this week’s featured album…

MI0002782746Back to Black (Amy Winehouse, 2006)

Back to Black is one of those “must-have” albums in your music collection. Starting with just a broad overview, it’s an absolute gem in modern R&B, featuring a fun “big band” sound and Amy’s soulful, impressive voice. It’s got a vintage feel, juxtaposed with lyrics that bring up modern ideas.

That’s what makes this album great, in my opinion, is that fact that it can be modern, yet timeless all at once. Amy’s singing voice is impressive, to say the least. She’s got a unique, lower register sound, which I think leads all kinds of people to enjoy this album equally (i.e. both men and women). With that said, I would keep this one away from very young kids, since Amy won’t hesitate to cuss or talk about her struggle with heavy drug addiction.

Sadly, Amy passed away in 2011. That undoubtedly contributed to the vast interest in this album, and it quickly rose to become one of the best selling albums of all time. Back to Black is a snapshot of Amy’s life, riddled with heartbreak, literal highs and lows, yet always calm and hopeful. The songs are catchy, fun, and deep. My favorite is the title track “Back to Black”, and some other great ones are “You Know I’m No Good” (the perfect anthem if you’re a bad-ass chick), “Me & Mr Jones” and “Just Friends”.

Share this post in one of the ways listed above for a chance to win a copy of Back to Black, and I’ll let you know if you’re the winner on Monday! Good luck!

Kayla as Amy Winehouse

 

A little something extra:
Here’s me as Amy Winehouse last Halloween! Unfortunately, I kept getting a lot of “Hey, Snooki!” since my coat was covering the fake tattoos.

 


Kayla Liederbach
@djkaylakush

Kayla manages social media and customer support at Murfie. You can hear her on the radio hosting U DUB, the reggae show, Wednesdays on WSUM. She enjoys hosting the Murfie podcast, cooking, traveling, going to concerts, and snuggling with kittycats.


Staff Picks: Noah’s Pick

Last month, Neko Case released her first single in four years, called “Man.”  It’s a great new song, from her mouthful-titled album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You.  This got me thinking about her last album, which came out in 2009: Middle Cyclone.

49371-large

I found Middle Cyclone when I was seventeen and a senior in high school.  I was drawn to the crazy cover art: Neko perched on a 1967 Mercury Cougar with a pointed sword.  Since I was a big Tori Amos fan at the time (like, massive—you don’t even understand), I figured a blind buy of a redheaded woman singer’s album with badass cover art couldn’t hurt.

I wasn’t quite prepared for how important this album was going to be in my life.  For the last four years, the poetic, symbolic lyrics of the songs written about animals and mythology have taken on meanings and new meanings in my psyche.  When life throws a curveball, when a relationship falls apart or falls together, the songs feel as if they seamlessly morph into fables tailor-made to my own experience.

“This Tornado Loves You” is, literally, about a tornado falling in love with a boy.  It’s also a great metaphor for every relationship in which you’ve felt like a bull in a china shop. “People Got a Lotta Nerve” is, literally, about a shark eating a man. It also describes that resigned feeling you get when someone is disappointed in the unrealistic expectations they have crafted for you. My personal favorite is “The Pharaohs,” which is written, again literally, about Egyptian pharaohs. The story Case tells of isolation and dissatisfaction is sometimes painfully modern.

The album is built of beautifully simple, yet breathtaking lines. Some of the best include “I miss how you’d sigh yourself to sleep when I’d rake the springtime across your sheets,” “Can’t scrape together quite enough to ride the bus to the outskirts of the fact that I need love,” “I lie ‘cross a path waiting just for a chance to be a spiderweb trapped in your lashes; for that, I would trade you my empire for ashes,” and, “You wandered the hall all the nighttime; my body burned, my legs ached, but you never came to bed, you just left me there awake; you kept me wanting like the wanting in the movies and the hymns.”

Right now you can pick up Middle Cyclone on Murfie for $5.  Who knows?  Maybe the songs will blend into your life as essentially as they have into mine.

Interview with Pushmi-Pullyu [Podcast]

It’s been said that Pushmi-Pullyu is a band that goes in many directions. Whether it’s electronic, pop, rock or blues, this Madison-based group does it well, and in their own distinct way. Here’s some exciting news: They’re set to release a brand new album, Never Love a Stranger—and advance copies are exclusively available on Murfie! The time is perfect for an interview with Pushmi-Pullyu’s founding member.

301750-largeWho: John Praw Kruse; interviewed by Kayla Liederbach
What: John shares some interesting factoids about the band, the album, the music scene, and more.
Where: The steps of the State Capitol, Madison, WI
When: Monday, June 17th, 2013
How: Recorded by Kayla Liederbach
File: mp3 version


Find music by Pushmi-Pullyu in our shop.

Preview the new album at madisonartsextract.com.

Check out more of the band at mamrecords.comFacebook and Twitter.

Into RSS? Follow our podcast feed via https://blog.murfie.com/category/podcasts/feed.

Curious CDs

Remember this movie? It’s not every day that the King of the Goblins steals your baby half-brother and gives you 13 hours to pass through an obstacle-filled labyrinth to get him back. Well luckily there’s an awesome soundtrack to go with this story, and it’s available on Murfie.

              Labyrinth

MI0001790600The Facts:

  • This movie stars rocker David Bowie as Jareth, King of the Goblins, and a young Jennifer Connelly as Sarah
  • The soundtrack takes you along for the journey, using a fantasy-based score fused with ’80s electric rock songs
  • Surprisingly, this movie did not do well when it was released in theaters

Maybe folks were a bit reluctant to warm up to this movie at first because it’s out of the ordinary—or maybe they were just scared of Bowie’s extremely tight pants. Ether way, this movie has a huge cult following now, and the soundtrack is an equally quirky collector’s piece.

Curious CDs

Every week, our Operations team keeps track of the most interesting discs that get sent to Murfie. This week’s Curious CD is especially intriguing…and one-of-a-kind. Just look at the album cover!

             Radio Active Cats

298063-large

The Facts:

  • This is a self-titled album by a band that hails from Burbank, California
  • This album cover is arguably one of the best ones ever
  • Radio Active Cats can definitely be described as having a hard rock/glam metal sound

This album sounds like it could have come straight from the 1970s, but it came out in 1991. There’s really not too much info about this lesser-known gem on the internet—so it’s worth checking out on Murfie! Props to the member who sent this one in.

John’s Pick: Allison Weiss Was Right All Along!

If you have heard the name Allison Weiss before, then you probably already know her story. When she was fifteen, she began playing guitar to impress a boy in her creative writing class. Several years, a profile on every social networking site you could imagine and over a million YouTube views later, Allison Weiss continues to build an ever-increasing fanbase.  Her 2009 album …Was Right All Along is without a doubt the release that made my subscription to her channel pay off.

Any Allison Weiss fan will have seen a number – if not all – of her solo acoustic YouTube videos, featuring originals and covers. If you are hoping for a studio-quality album of these solo pieces, you will probably be disappointed. Instead, we are treated to full band, fleshed out versions of some really great songs – something Weiss continues to do with newer releases.  To fund the album, Allison Weiss used the crowd-sourcing pledge site Kickstarter.com, raising nearly eight thousand dollars – almost 400% her original goal. And you can hear every penny in the tracks. With …Was Right All Along, Allison Weiss’ sound changed from that of a hobbyist to that of a professional musician, and that trend continues today.

There are a few places on the album where one could nitpick (for example: the ebow on “Ghost Stories” just sounds off for some reason), but a number of the tracks reward the listener for each additional play. “You + Me + Alcohol”, “Fingers Crossed” and “Let’s Leave” steal the show in this department. “You + Me + Alcohol” may not be the most poetic of Allison Weiss’ large repertoire of songs, but it is just so damn fun to listen to and sing along.

The album features an extended band for most tracks, but it certainly does not entirely ignore the solo acoustic pieces that captivated most fans in the first place. “I Was An Island” (a personal favorite of mine) eases the listener in by slowly building on Allison Weiss’ solo acoustic guitar. It serves as a fitting transition, taking the listener from behind a webcam and into the studio. The second track on the album, “Fingers Crossed”, shows exactly how much Allison Weiss’ sound improved in the first few years of her career.

Interested in checking it out for yourself?  You’re in luck!  …Was Right All Along is available on Murfie for only $2.00!  Act quick, because it’s a steal.