Release Date: Sep 18, 2012
Record label: Rhymesayers Entertainment
Genre(s): Rap, Pop/Rock, Underground Rap
Using Old Glory as a prayer rug on your album cover is certain to drive some people away, and with one quarter of the guest list here occupied by Dr. Cornell West (author of Race Matters and no friend to "the Establishment") underground rapper Brother Ali's 2012 effort certainly looks like a "target audience" album. "Preaching to the converted" would be the more dismissive way to put it, but an objective ear can hear that there's an unexpected amount of beauty, hope, and grace in Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, especially when West is in the building.
When it comes to giving a fuck, Brother Ali just doesn't give a fuck. He will run up in foreclosed houses in North Minneapolis with a crew of neighborhood poverty-fighting activists and end up in the back of a squad car for it. He'll antagonize his tour sponsors when they get cold feet about his lyrics, like in 2007 when Verizon cut off their endorsement in the wake of "Uncle Sam Goddamn".
Right now, I’m unemployed. I mean, I’m writing for PopMatters, so you could call that a job if you want, but my landlord doesn’t. My folks just transferred money for a security deposit to my bank account, and I can’t stop looking at my account online, amazed that this many dollars even exist in the world. Brother Ali’s newest album, Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, doesn’t talk about my financial problems specifically, but it talks about them in the way that you might be able to relate to as well: a guttural knowledge that something’s deeply wrong.
While ostensibly an attempt to address contemporary social issues, this fourth album by Minnesotan white Muslim rapper Brother Ali is more clearly an exercise in nostalgia. The consequence may not be intended, but it turns out to be Mourning in America's main strength. With production by Jake One that's heavy on the drum fills, horn flares and rolling piano hooks, you can occasionially mistake a song for late-noughties Jay-Z.
Brother Ali has fire in his soul, and his main target is the current state of our country. He opens Mourning America and Dreaming In Color with gloves off, laying out his thesis on “Letter to My Countrymen”: “I used to think I hated this place/ couldn’t wait to tell the president straight to his face/ but lately I’ve changed/ nowadays I embrace it all/ beautiful ideals and amazing flaws/ gotta care enough to give a testament about the deeply depressing mess we’re in.” Like those lines, the album itself is both a celebration and a condemnation of the United States of America. On “Work Everyday”, Ali speaks to unemployment and poverty.
It’s been three years since Brother Ali delivered his last LP and the Minneapolis rapper has returned just in the nick of time. His politically-driven fifth album, Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, is yet another exposé of his life journeys—even more so than his last two lauded releases, 2009’s Us and 2007’s The Undisputed Truth. The album is guided by socio-political undertones, but rather than just trying to drop knowledge, the underground vet doesn’t hesitate to unveil back-end anecdotes and personal tragedy.