Fully recharged and inspired by his eye-opening first trip to Mecca, the 2011 uprisings in the Middle East, and the world wide Occupy movements, Brother Ali is prepared to unveil his fourth full-length offering Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color. Created during a self-imposed two-month exile in Seattle and helmed by platinum-selling producer Jake One (50 Cent, T.I., Wiz Khalifa), the album presents a scathing yet honest critique of America and its many flaws while simultaneously presenting a hopeful outlook of its possibilities. Preceded by the release of free music downloads with accompanying music videos such as “Shine On,” “Writer’s Block,” and “Not A Day Goes By,” Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color is the pièce de résistance.
In an age of hip-hop where the paradigm of swag over substance reigns supreme, few emcees are willing to use their platform to tackle the hot-button topics and pressing social maladies of our time - but it’s apparent that Minneapolis-based hip-hop artist Brother Ali is one of those few. Over the course of 14 tracks with assists from esteemed author/ professor Dr. Cornel West, revered Southern hip-hop icon Bun B, and Def Poetry Jam poet Amir Sulaiman, the album brazenly holds a mirror to the idiosyncrasies of American life while simultaneously painting a vibrant portrait of its wondrous potential. Actualizing hip-hop’s full range of motion as a gage for the times, Mourning In America and Dreaming In Color asserts itself as the definitive soundtrack of a disenchanted, disenfranchised, and wildly optimistic citizenry during a landmark period in American history. In a moment of artistic preemptive strike, Brother Ali recognized this prime opportunity to examine and address the underpinnings of the burgeoning stance of mass opposition:
“This is not just a new album, but a new chapter. There’s a kind of democratic reawakening in people at this point in time. I was really looking to take these topics and really hit them hard. To try to open ears and hearts and invite people to take some action and feel empowered. To be engaged and take some agency and responsibility for what’s going on in the world.”
Melding the zeitgeist of classic works such as Ice Cube’s critical 1991 album Death Certificate and Marvin Gaye’s 1971 sociopolitical opus What’s Goin’ On with his keen observations on topics such as race, the Occupy movement, and the hypocrisy of war, Brother Ali has crafted a fresh lyrical approach and dynamic new sound - the result is a stunning collection of hard-hitting lyrics and beats.
The state of the union address commences with “Letter To My Countrymen,” a spirited appeal to fellow Americans with a tailor made guest vocal from Cornel West. Brother Ali speaks on the institution of poverty on “Only Life I Know” while the quasi-autobiographical “Stop The Press” addresses his albinism, the death of his father, and his remarkable yet challenging journey through hip-hop. “Mourning In America,” in part the album’s title track, offers a brutally honest look at America’s convoluted and hypocritical relationship to murder. Featuring a searing verse from poet Amir Sulaiman, “Gather Round” is a battle cry to the masses to take an ardent interest in the social ills plaguing society. Brother Ali puts underemployment and hyper consumerism in the face of socioeconomic turmoil on blast on “Work Everyday.” “Need A Knot,” featuring the voice of Bun B, finds Brother Ali skillfully veiling a series of odd jobs in analogies of illegal hustles. “Namesake” is the seldom-told tale of a pre-fame Muhammad Ali – one of America’s most dynamic personas whom Brother Ali is also named after. The set ends with the outro “Singing This Song,” a track that showcases another one of Brother Ali’s passions – speaking engagements. The song features highlights of Ali’s riveting public address at a mass demonstration demanding justice for Trayvon Martin.
Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, in all its sonic and lyrical glory, promises to be both the voice of a burgeoning new critical American consciousness and the beacon of hope for those that hold fast to its ideals and potential.