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.

Album Review: “Lantern” by Hudson Mohawke

Hudson Mohawke Lantern

Lantern
Released: June 16th, 2015
Reviewed by Erik Wermuth
Rating: 3/5

Almost two years ago, when Jay-Z’s album Magna Carta Holy Grail dropped, Hudson Mohawke tweeted that “This record could’ve came out 10 yrs ago and no one would’ve batted an eye lid”. Admittedly, the Glasgow native had submitted several beats for consideration that Jay-Z ultimately decided not to use. It should be fairly obvious that he was not in a neutral headspace about the album when it dropped, but the critique highlights one of the central conflicts in music today: now that the technology for production and distribution has advanced to the point where anyone with a computer and some time on their hands can put out a body of work, why does so much of it still sound so much the same?

It would be tempting to use Mohawke’s own words against him and his latest release, the LP Lantern, but that would be both cheap and incorrect. 10 years ago, his style alone would have (and did) raise eyebrows. After a series of mixtapes and a reality TV talent-search appearance in the mid-to-late 2000’s, the happy trapper (trappist?) started gaining a significant amount of traction, especially for an unheralded teenager out of Scotland. The work he produced during this period was hard-hitting enough to send club crowds over the edge, while providing enough passion and innovation to keep critical listeners coming back for more.

The unique blend of happy-hardcore intensity and trap rhythms that dominated his music in the last decade culminated in the prestigious Warp Records releasing his first LP Butter in 2009. The album’s combination of creative power and head-nodding accessibility made it a critical success that led to high-profile collaborations with the Canadian producer Lunice as the duo TNGHT and with Kanye West on his Yeezus album, both of which vastly increased his popularity with American listeners. It is within the context of his meteoric rise to fame and its aftermath that his most recent album Lantern must be understood.

Hud Mo is clearly a very talented producer, and nothing in Lantern shakes my faith in that. He has his sound down tight. After making waves in December with his contributions to the Rap Monument, he’s moved away from hip-hop/rap to a more R&B/soul-centered approach, particularly in terms of the artists he features such as Jhene and Antony Hegarty. He interviewed extensively in the lead-up to his sophomore effort’s release, stating again and again that he wanted to get away from his status as a trap god and move on to more interesting musical territory. This impulse, in and of itself, is an essential one for any musician who wants to develop his art. Sadly, instead of moving in new creative directions, the album sounds like a watered down version of his earlier works. Lantern lacks the immediacy and creative urgency that made early Hudson Mohawke so compelling. There are, of course, some exceptions: “Scud Books” is a strong, triumphal track, “Ryderz” has something of his old Saturday morning whimsy, and “Lil Djembe” is a short, but punchy beat that has flashes of his old brilliance. However, while none of these would be out of place in his earlier work, none measure up to the expectation of excellence he has established for himself.

Hud Mo achieved success by taking opposing genres and binding them into something greater than the individual components. Butter was so magical because he lashed two dominating musical forces together without losing the purity or energy of either. It drew praise for its accessibility, but it’s important to remember that being able to access something only matters if the content is worth accessing. Like all the best electronic music, Butter burst with inventiveness and left the listener with a real sense of passion– even when it grated, its freshness and originality were never in doubt. But praise can be toxic if misdirected, and I worry that Hud Mo heard too much about how surprisingly listenable Butter was and decided to move only in that direction on Lantern. The listener is still treated to the occasional whining treble and high hat nod to trap roots, but they serve more as a sad reminder of what was than as the basis for an exciting new direction.

Ultimately, Lantern is still a solid album by a great producer. Had it come out ten years ago, eyelids would definitely have batted. 5 years ago, less so. Coming out today it sounds like one long compromise to pop sensibilities, some of which Mohawke himself helped to create—a canned production of known quantities. The creative verve that was beneath the surface of all his releases from his first EP LuckyMe in 2005 to Butter in 2009 is mostly a no-show. The taming of his trap sensibilities that Lantern represents was a major disappointment, mostly because of how high of a bar he had set for himself. At best it represents stagnation for one of the world’s premiere electronic artists and at worst it marks the beginning of a long, slow creative death. As a cutting-edge producer, if mainstream news outlets are describing your new work as lush, listenable lounge music, it’s a safe bet that you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the line. That being said, this is only his second solo album, and his side work has remained impeccable. Here’s to hoping Hud Mo can right the ship. I give Lantern an uninspired 3/5.

Album Preview – “Trouble in Paradise” by La Roux

Trouble in ParadiseAlbum
Trouble in Paradise

Artist
La Roux

Release Date
July 21, 2014

Label
Interscope Records

Pre-order Link
Pre-order Album

Preview
Synthpop sensation La Roux is releasing their long-awaited sophomore album next week, entitled Trouble in Paradise. Singer and frontwoman Elly Jackson has taken the reigns on the new album after a recent split with longtime creative partner and producer Ben Langmaid.

La RouxLa Roux has enjoyed success since the late 2000s. Their self-titled album, an electrically-fueled synthesizer dance pop masterpiece, earned the group a Grammy Award in 2011 for Best Electronic/Dance Album. The band began to amass a global audience as they toured the world and made television appearances throughout America.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted FantasyOther artists quickly took notice of Elly Jackson’s talent and unique persona. She provided vocals for several tracks on Kanye West’s 2010 mega-hit My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. After a two-year hiatus beginning in 2011, La Roux began the writing process for their second album. It was during this time that producer Ben Langmaid left the group, leaving Jackson as the main creative force.

Trouble in Paradise promises to live up to the expectations of it’s predecessor without relying on emulation. Jackson has stated that the new album has a “cheekier” sound than their debut smash, and that she herself will be playing more live instruments to create a fresher sound.

A music video for the first single, “Let Me Down Gently,” is available for viewing and is already generating a positive buzz for the new album. Check it out below!

Murfie Preview

La Roux preorder

Video Transcript

Kayla: Hi guys, another album release is coming to Murfie on Tuesday, July 22nd. La Roux is coming out with Trouble in Paradise. La Roux is an electronic synth pop act, with mainly one person doing everything—Elly. Electronic music is really popular nowadays, but I’m glad to hear that this new album is going to incorporate some acoustic instruments in the mix, a fusion of old and new. Another thing to note is Elly, the main person in La Roux, has amazing hair, and you can see on the first album cover and this one too. She’s looking fabulous sitting on a car, so the whole image surrounding the music I think is really fitting. Especially with the name of the band, La Roux, which could be translated as “The Redhead.” So the new album comes out July 22nd. See if it lives up to the expectations. It’s on our pre-order page, murfie.com/preorder.

Soundcloud Version

A teaser from Trouble in Paradise

La Roux

Preorder your copy of Trouble in Paradise on Murfie! As always, each CD comes with unlimited streaming (Web, iOS, Android, Sonos) and downloads in mp3, aac, FLAC, and ALAC.

Shopkeep of the Week

jeff pic

In early 2011, JP’s CD collection took a journey from the warm climes of New Mexico to the waning winter of Wisconsin. Since then he has sold hundreds of his pre-loved CDs on Murfie and has over 200 more listed for sale.

JP’s musical tastes run in quite a few directions, and his CD collection numbered about 1,200 discs at its peak! He’s a big Motown guy. He’s also an avid fan of numerous singer-songwriters like Van Morrison, Dylan, Tom Waits, and Jim Croce. You’ll also find The Beatles, Wilco, Mumford and Sons, and The Allman Brothers Band sprinkled throughout his musical sundae—along with a few scoops of Kanye West, Miles Davis, and Oasis —all topped off with a Sinatra cherry! With that said, he admits that there are some stinkers in the collection too, but hey, we all make mistakes sometimes! :-)

MURFIE: When did you purchase your first CD? What was it?
JP: I think about 1986 —Peter Gabriel’s “So.”

M: What do you plan to do with the millions of dollars you’re making from your Murfie shop?
J: Buy an electric toothbrush.

M: Favorite Beatle?
J: Lennon —natch.

Check out JP’s collection on Murfie and find yourself a deal!

Shopkeep of the Week is a weekly feature that focuses on our most interesting Murfie shopkeepers. These are music lovers like you who have sold hundreds of pre-loved CDs on Murfie and have hundreds more at the ready to please your ears! If you’d like your Murfie Shop to be featured, or if you’d like to nominate a shop to be featured, please e-mail us at info@murfie.com and let us know.