“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.” – Brother Ali
The musical tone of Brother Ali’s previous albums have been set by influential producer Ant, but sometimes change is just necessary in the life of an artist. Seattle local, Jake One, has stepped up to the plate to produce music that is representative of a new chapter in Brother Ali’s life.
Heavy bass riffs begin the album with “Letter to My Countrymen”, a powerful anthem that acts as the prelude of the whole album. “This is not a practice life/this is the big game we gotta attack it right/each one of us is headed for the grave/this whole crooked world won’t be saved by the passive type.”
In previous albums, Brother Ali covers a large spectrum of subjects, ranging anywhere from his personal life to his views on social injustices to his faith. This time, in Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, a large chunk of the album is spent critiquing the state of America and challenging the status quo, not just the government, but the people living in it as well. “Mourning in America” goes full impact to attack the issue of violence and the desensitization of war. “Work Everyday” questions capitalism and the condition of the economy, adding to KRS-One: “Criminal minded/we’ve been blinded/looking for a honest job and we can’t find it.” The imagery of poverty painted in “Only Life I Know” is not part of some narrative; it is the unfortunate portrait of the lives of the impoverished.
Personal events, joyful or tragic, always influence the messages and the attitude of an artist. Us, was an album that reflected the success of Brother Ali’s career and was presented in a relaxed and optimistic mood. In contrast, tragedy is written all over the pages of this upcoming album. In “Stop The Press”, he talks about the suicide of his father and the death of fellow emcee, Eyedea. In “All You Need”, he explains to his eldest son the unfortunate circumstances of his mother. Even with all the sadness looming, the tone of this album is not grief and strife; rather it is filled with hope and optimism.
Jake One’s production successfully accompanies Brother Ali’s mindset on every song: aggressive, hard-hitting beats to emphasize angst; church choir choruses faithfully complement his spirituality; the triumphant brass echoes along with his poignant voice.
Soulful “Singing This Song” concludes the album by reminding us that change and revolution cannot come from one, but by the collective of all. “Speeding on a crash course with our final hour/only thing that can bring us back is our finest hour/excellence flows from every precious soul/is the only way I know to harness that kind of power.”
The strength in this album is not Brother Ali’s poetic, narrative power (that’s merely stating the obvious); the strength in this album is his message that we all have the power to overcome. Through the triumph over his own trials and tribulation, Brother Ali, himself has clearly matured in attitude and perspective. This album may mourn pain and criticize flaws, but only to shed light on how each one of us, individually and collectively, can and should be a part of the movement to initiate change.