Album Review: All the Beauty in This Whole Life by Brother Ali
Excellent, Based on 5 Critics
Exclaim - 90 Based on rating 9/10
Five years since the release of Brother Ali's Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, the Jake One-produced collection of approachable, politically engaged hip-hop, the rapper returns with All the Beauty in This Whole Life, a refreshing snapshot of his journey down the path to spirituality and self-love.
"I was trying to get the heart right, get my heart right so that I can [really] live more freely and live more fully," he told Exclaim during a recent interview. This manifesto is probably best exemplified on the song "Own Light," which he wrote while observing a period of silence on a spiritual retreat.
In the current post-2016 election political climate, hearing Brother Ali's 2012 album, Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, seems like a soundtrack. Its anger and rage offer a prophetic soundtrack for the historic events of the last five years. Ali dropped that bomb and all but disappeared for five years. He traveled and spent time with his spiritual teachers.
Using struggle to build character personally and professionally, Minnesota's Brother Ali has defied the odds stacked against him to become a long-running underground success story. Not only is he a Hip Hop outlier due to albinism, xenophobia within America's society automatically renders him a menace because of a teenage conversion to Islam. Refusing to be anyone's victim, he vents his burdens with stories highly resonant to those sharing his vision for a more progressive world.
Over a career that has spanned almost two decades, rapper and producer Brother Ali has consistently entwined and then unbraided his personal life and his politics. His catalog has oscillated inwards and outwards accordingly. He's never ditched social commentary, but there are certain Brother Ali records that feel like deliberate self-care. At one point on his new album, he concedes, "If I'm trying to get out here and protest/Let me first save the world from my foolishness." Five years after the emcee turned in a record that felt like an active duty report from the front lines, he's flipped the spotlight back on himself, thumbing through his life in intimate detail.
In the 2010s, the middle-aged rapper has become something of a common sight. There are countless examples of 40-odd-year-old rappers trying their best to do what they did so well at 20-something, to varying degrees of success. Dr. Dre’s Compton, Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP 2, and Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail are examples from just the last few years, all of them willfully (mostly) ignoring the aging of their primary artists, all of them actually managing to find some success in a mix of nostalgia and midlife crises.