This hiphop thing is universal. Its beyond the music, its about the looks, the swagger to the mindset and beyond. So what if the image doesn't matter? For your average rapper this might be a case of worry, as most of them rely heavily on the gangsta/rich/ex-coke dealer image that they've managed to impose upon themselves but within these shells the soul is more or less lacking.
Brother Ali, a devoted Muslim, was known as a battle rapper who frequented the Scribble Jams and has won many a fans with his unique punchlines and delivery, and that he is an albino rapper, which as experience has taught me is a good thing as the only other such rapper, Krondon from Xzibit's erstwhile Strong Arm Steady crew is also pretty good. Brother Ali then signed with Slug's Rhymesayers Entertainment and dropped Rites Of Passage in 2000. This gathered him wider but limited publicity (considering it was a casette only release and the lucky owners of that album would now be running eBay empires) but mostly some loyal fans plus, more importantly, gave hints that he has more to him than just battle rhymes and punches. His various cameos in hiphop's underground universe served its purpose of keeping the fans happy as such fucking with their appetite for more, turning 2 of them from Minnesota into wolves overnight.
Shadows On The Sun was the answer and in an ideal world where you could judge by the cover, you'd right away say some good shit. The album, produced entirely by Ant earned so much acclaim that there was a demand for the previous album to be re-released as a CD, which Rhymesayers did on a later stage as a limited edition pre-order bonus with his third release, The Champion EP.
Room With A View: Im always a sucker for good storytelling. A good example of that would be this track where Ali paints a picture of his neighbourhood and growing up there. The beat is more than engaging, the delivery is full of energy and the way the lines are put together looks so effortless that all in all this song is just brilliant.
Champion: Switch gears and we are presented with a battlesque track with enough braggadocios rhymes as one would have expected from a title like that. Im not the biggest fan of the chorus for some reason.
Star Quality: Similar in vein to the previous track where Ali explains why he's to be considered star quality but except this time he does it over a more laid back beat that sounds so peaceful that you wouldn't either notice or you'd ignore the fact that he's trying to convince you/the invisible foe of your incompetence and how your approach is 'ass crack backwards'. The fact that he also has some genuine humour sense does help his mission.
Prince Charming: This is a song where Ali finds the girl of his dreams and tries his best to charm her, but instead she files a restraining order against him. The song is strangely amusing and you start to notice a couple things by this point. 1 - Apart from all this me-better-than-you rhymes Ali can also make fun of himself for amusement sake. 2 - Ant. Where the hell had they been hiding him? The 4 beats so far got more soul than probably half of all the mainstream beats from 2003!
Win Some Lose Some: Urban tales, but all the things said about the earlier tracks do apply here too. Now this is good as in the album is so consistent, but at the same time its been on a rather same level so far that some individuals may start feeling a monotony. But the song taken individually, you cant really complain.
Pay Them Back: By this point you notice 2 things. 1 - The vocabulary and wordplay in less than half an album here would equal your average rappers entire discography and then some. 2 - Fuckin Ant. Where the hell had they been hiding him? Well we did notice him already, didnt we?
Blah Blah f/ Slug: This is a funny track where Ali & Slug go back & forth about random shit. The beat is minimalistic and a step down from the standard set so far.
Shadows On The Sun: Just when we thought Ant was stepping down he goes back a couple notches and delivers a banger. When Brother Ali says that he 'keeps an eye on heaven and an ear to the street' it kind of sums up the vibe of this album. Brother Ali's flow is super smooth on this song.
Forest Whitiker: Its only a personal verse and a sung chorus and from what he's suggesting here, he's got a point.
Bitchslap: The beat is as old school as it can get. The rhymes are again punchline heavy. Replay value may not be the song's strong point. Slug is on the chorus but is not credited in the titles.
Backstage Pacin: By now you notice another thing. Whenever it comes to a point where you feel the momentum is going down these guys jump right back. This song flips 3 different situations where a show promoter, a newbie rap crew and then Brother Ali himself is backstage pacing trying to get in control of their respective situations at hand. Good shit.
When The Beat Comes In: The beats a banger. For the peaceful looking person Ali is he is a monster when he's got a mic in his hand.
Missing Teeth f/ Slug: Almost the same as Slug's other verse feature except this is more aggressive.
Dorian: Ali tells a story about confronting an abusive neighbour and is caught in some misunderstanding. You cant help but notice that he's got a unique style when it comes to story telling and once again good humour in the right places always help. The outro where he is teaching his baby to recite Qur'An is sweet.
Soul Whisper: Is as such not a rap, but more of a poem plus an Arabic verse from the Qur'An.
Picket Fence: Brother Ali posts an honest portrayal of who he is and the difficulties he had to face growing up and the rare looks of sympathy and love that helped him move ahead. Touching. Very good material.
Victory: The album couldn't have been closed any better as this song has Ali flexing his lyrical muscle once again to send his message across. The beat is good which has been the story of this album.
After you listen to the album one time over you would not doubt Ali's lyrical prowess. It is best utilised when he is trying to tell a story or to get a valid point across. Ali uses it to great effect and the honesty and passion in his words cannot be overlooked, which makes his rhymes whether dipped in religious tones or personal tribulations worth listening to. It also helps that Ant has brought out the best funk & soul laid canvases for Ali to paint his vivid pictures over. It does get to a plateau around the halfway mark but they bounce it up again and there are some real gems to be found all over.
Listen to: Room With A View