Using his music as a platform is nothing new for Minnesota MC Brother Ali, whose soulful brand of hip hop has ranged from the outspoken “Uncle Sam Goddamn” to the positive “Fresh Air.” However, since recording Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color — another politically minded album — Ali has gone a step further, getting involved in the Occupy Homes movement of Minnesota, working to prevent wrongful foreclosures.
Inspired by his trip to Mecca during the Arab Spring, Mourning in America… opens with “Letter to My Countrymen,” featuring a spoken-word outro by Dr. Cornel West, where he asks his listeners to get involved too, as “this old, crooked world won’t be saved by the passive type.”
“Mourning in America” touches on the USA’s obsession with violence, both on the street (“every night, the bullets flyin’ / even if you ain’t dyin’, you a traumatized survivor”) and in the military (“there’s a fine line between a solider and a terrorist”). It’s one of the darker songs on the album, and it follows the intensely personal “Stop the Press,” which mentions the suicide of his father, the death of a friend, and relationship troubles.
Thanks to producer Jake One, the album also takes more musical chances. “Won More Hit” has both modern and retro electronic flavors, expanding from Ali’s funky, upbeat style. There are even electric-guitar riffs (over bongos) on “Say Amen” and on the following “Fajr,” which couples it with a warbling synth and a mini-choir.
The musical diversity prevents Mourning in America… from going stale, but it’s not like Ali’s rhymes wouldn’t keep your mental wheels turning anyway. When all is said and done, it might just be a defining moment in the MC’s acclaimed career.