For many, success is acceptance from others, but rapper Brother Ali has used an ethos of self-determination to enrich his life and his art. He's shared that spirit with others through his music. Born in Wisconsin, and diagnosed with albinism as an infant, Ali would be ridiculed due to his appearance throughout his childhood, but hip-hop was an outlet to convey his emotions and share his outlook on life. Moving to Michigan before settling in Minneapolis, Minnesota as a teenager, Brother Ali linked up with Rhymesayers Entertainment, dropping his debut album, Rites of Passage, a cassette-only release, in 2000, an effort that planted the seeds for what has become a fruitful career for the emcee.
Making noise with his 2003 album, Shadows on the Sun, before solidifying himself as a king on the independent circuit with 2007's The Undisputed Truth, Brother Ali has been fortunate to find material success without allowing it's trappings to distract him from the pursuit of a more spiritual sense of wealth.
After an extended hiatus, Brother Ali has returned to the scene with All the Beauty in This Whole Life, another body of work from the Rhymesayer that is full of sociopolitical commentary, and parables spurred by internal reflection. His first album since releasing the critically-acclaimed Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color in 2012, All the Beauty in This Whole Life should only strengthen Brother Ali's status as one of the more progressive songwriters and lyricists in rap.
With the release of All the Beauty in This Whole Life, we took a deep dive into Brother Ali's discography and selected 10 of the most impactful verses in his career thus far.
"Forest Whitaker"1st Verse
In 2003, Brother Ali released his sophomore album, Shadows On the Sun, which would build on the success achieved with his debut album. While the album included multiple songs that would go on to become signature selections in the Rhymesayers emcee's catalog, "Forest Whitaker" is on that resonates highly. Touching on being an albino and how it's affected his life, Brother Ali speaks on the topic with his head held high, making this verse an empowering one.
Standout Bars: "You might think I'm depressed as can be/But when I look in the mirror, I see sexy ass me/And if that's somethin' that you can't respect then that's peace/My life's better without you actually"
Shadows On the Sun is filled with brilliant storytelling, but one of the premier cuts that jumps out is the soulful, Ant produced offering "Dorian." The track finds the usually even-keeled Brother Ali engaging in a war of words with an unruly neighbor by the name of Dorian, who has a problem keeping his hands from himself. Th argument quickly escalates into fisticuffs, but ultimately ends in irony, a surprising twist that makes this an unforgettable stanza in Brother Ali's book of rhymes.
Standout Bars: "I stood at full posture and swatted him down the staircase/Bare knuckles to bare face, all punches knew their place/Airport style, the second one take off, the next one land/Learn some respect young man/He glanced down for the brick on the ground/Fist still clenched up, I'm still stickin' his crown"
Continuing to build his rep as one of the stalwarts in indie rap circles, Brother Ali truly reached another plateau with his 2007 album, The Undisputed Truth. An ambitious long player, the album found Brother Ali hitting on all cylinders, especially on the Ant produced album cut "Daylight." Lyrically rich, with Brother Ali running over the track with precision, "Daylight"s third verse is its most potent, with Ali delving into racial identity in a way that few rappers have, making it on of his more powerful string of couplets.
Standout Bars: I ain't just talking about singing and dancing/I was taught life and manhood by black men/So I'm a product of that understanding/And a small part of me feels like I am them/Does that make me a liar maybe/But I don't want the white folks that praise me to think they can claim me"
In 2009, Brother Ali dropped an EP titled The Truth Is Here, a collection of nine unreleased songs meant to hold over fans until his next full length offering. Out of the tracks, one that is sure to pique your interest is "Little Rodney," which finds Brother Ali painting a picture of the harsh realities of prison life. The song's opening verse is especially vivid, and among the rapper's best to date.
Standout Bars: "Eat, sleep, shit, sweat hardship/A godless society's garbage, twisted mission accomplished/Bars and our sorrows are all that we armed with/Heart disconnected punching walls with a raw fist/Partin, between the villian hell and the coffin/Do the death rattle in the metal maze you lost in"
"Letter to my Countrymen"1st Verse
Going on a hiatus after the release of his Us album, Brother Ali would return in a big way, unleashing his fifth studio album, Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, his most highly anticipated project up to that point in his career. "Letter to my Countrymen," the album's opening selection, is a stellar intro aimed at the citizens of America, with the first verse serving as a hell of a public address on the part of Brother Ali.
Standout Bars: "We're up against an ugly trend/Everybody's hustling, don't nobody touch their friends/No group singing and dancing/No anthem nobody holds hands, and.../Instead they give you a handheld/And make you shoulder life's burden by your damn self"
"Only Life I Know"2nd Verse
Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color would solidify Brother Ali as one of the leading voices in terms of sociopolitical commentary, with the rapper tackling various elephants in the room throughout the album's 16 songs. One tune that includes some of the more poignant lyrics on the album is "Only Life I Know," on which Brother Ali laments all of the traps and pitfalls set out for those who are impoverished and relegated to the bottom of society. Th second verse on the track is particularly stellar, with the Rhymesayers heavyweight spouting off a bit of reality rap that hits home for more than a few tuning in.
Standout Bars: "First one is follow the rules and stay in school/Be the square dude, that society approves/Get a little job or a shitty appartment/Sub-prime mortgage in a failing house market/The after your life dedication and hardship/You died just as poor as you was when you started"
Brother Ali has enough conceptual selections to please the most ardent rap fan, but every now and then, he just decides to annihilate a track for sport, one of those instances being "Gather Around." Produced by Jake One and featuring Amir Sulaiman, "Gather Round" immediately finds Brother Ali catching wreck, with the thoughtful emcee flowing with abandon from start to finish, catching a bodybag by the end of the first verse. An audio fatality if we ever heard one.
Standout Bars: "Decapitated they’re trying to cut our jugular vin/That’s the sacred lifeline from the heart to the brain/Make us blind to mankind’s suffering pain/Ugliness worldwide that’s done in our name"
Among the illest songs on Brother Ali's brilliant Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color album is "Fajr," an intense number on which the bald and bearded rhyme slinger goes for broke. Attacking the track with a tenacity that belies his humble disposition, Brother Ali does damage to the Jake One produced composition, notching yet another classic verse under his belt.
Standout Bars: "You’ll never get me quiet my people been inspired/I’m the little fire flickering within the riot/Feel it vibrate shake awake sleeping giant/Keep them vibrant and vital and re-energize them"
Gaining critical acclaim across the board with his The Undisputed Truth album, Brother Ali doubled back quicker than usual with his fourth LP, Us, which would mirror the success of its predecessor. A number of songs that are considered among Brother Ali's best are present on "The Travelers," however, "The Travelers" stands apart, with stanzas that highlight the harsh realities of the slave trade, privilege, and the values this country was built on. The second verse is especially scathing and takes to task all that have benefit from slavery, racism, and economic disparity.
Standout Bars: "Arrive somewhere strange, the air is cold/You can see your breath and you're barely clothed/Your first time ever seeing snow
Sleeping next to it on a hard dirt floor/Go from can't seeing see in the morning to can't see at night/You work till your hands bleed white/Your native language you can't recite/Murdered on sight if you try to read or write
"Room With a View"1st Verse
Debuting with his 2000 album, Rites of Passage, which was a small-scale cassette-only release, Brother Ali would up the ante with his sophomore album, Shadows on the Sun, which would be the first time the rap community at large would hear from the emcee. With that in mind, Ali came out the gate swinging on Shadows on the Sun, delivering an epic performance on the album's intro "Room With a View," which saw him airing out dirty laundry and giving an unfiltered glimpse into his mind state and the experiences that have shaped him.
Standout Bars: "Sister Regina from across the street is beautiful/But for 50 bucks ain't nothing she won't do to you/Used to be premium pussy now she used up/For that same 50 bucks she got to do some new stuff/Whatever it takes for you to pull the dollars out/If you don't intervene then there's a day she'll turn her daughter out"