Brother Ali’s life story is famously unconventional, and if nothing else, he most likely will always be the greatest black Albino Muslim hip-hop star from Minneapolis. The more crucial part of Ali’s life story is the fact that as he moved around Midwestern schools with his rather exceptional life circumstances, hip-hop was the only constant. Five years of success have proven that there is a place in the world for Brother Ali, and he has reached a peak: Us is his best album to date. It’s a pure joy from start to finish, perhaps the only album of the past year to provide that all-too-important role for music, and perhaps the first hip-hop album ever to provide that kind of release.
On Us, we have finally seen what happens when a generation raised on hip-hop grows up. More than just a dance-floor vehicle or a political soapbox, hip-hop has provided Brother Ali the kind of creative support upon which to base a remarkably loving album. There are several flashes of resentment on the album. (Where would hip-hop be without a little righteousness?) But the resentment Ali talks about—false assumptions, bad behavior, and bad taste—are universal, and they make the happy endings in his songs that much more deserved. Us is more personal than the more politically influenced Undisputed Truth, and its politics are best expressed by Chuck D. on the opening track “Brother and Sisters,” who calls Ali “a soldier in the war for love.”
Ali, both a lover and a fighter, never lets up, and the album survives both the most casual and the most intense listen. Normally, this kind of release in hip-hop is fleeting, simplistic, or better classified in another genre. Us is certainly infused with funk, soul and blues, but it’s an undeniably masterful execution of the kind of musical meter that’s always been essential to hip-hop, be it Afrika Bambaata or N.W.A. Brother Ali is literate, opinionated, but not particularly angry, nor does he feel the need to make his music cerebral.