Brother Ali – All The Beauty in This Whole Life

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Some time ago, Brother Ali had vitality and passion. It was a time everyone hated Hip-Hop made for partying, so some did bland, unmusical Boom Bap and others decided Hip-Hop could be about things other than killing and fucking. Nowadays it’s not mind-blowing anymore and that’s okay, since that era gave us Atmosphere whose followers – like Grieves and Sadistik – are the future. Brother Ali had his sure of fantastic tracks.

When I say ‘vitality’, I don’t mean that Brother Ali gone soft or any of that crap. The best song here is “Out of Here”, and his best song overall is “Faheem”, a heartbreaking song for his son that’s arresting from the first note and the moment Ali opens his mouth. There is vulnerability in his voice, one of an everyman who struggles with everyman issues that despite being common they’re still so huge we need music to deal with them. For a long time, it was one of the first songs I offered any time someone went off on ‘Hip-Hop is not music’ rants.

This album continues with the more introspective, less political nature. Nothing here goes hard like “Whatcha Got”, and that’s okay. The problem is, Ali doesn’t sound like he’s really into making music. Many of these songs ramble and don’t go anywhere. When they do, these are messages we’re familiar with and their delivary isn’t interesting or adds something new.

I’m not even sure if Ali is capable anymore. Like any rapper in this style, he had a tendency to make songs that are too dense to be interesting, but “Out of Here” should’ve been more powerful, darker. It should’ve brought the same vulnerability that made “Faheem” so arresting, yet it just coasts along. If it never sends a comforting message like how life goes on, it also doesn’t provide much insight into the topic. Losing someone to suicide is confusing. It shifts paradigms. We don’t just realize someone is gone, but it was death by choice. Someone actively decided that this whole project called life isn’t worthwhile.

According to the story, Ali took a break from music and went on a trip around the world to learn a bit about the beauty and love and life. Just look at the title. This kind of optimism leads to two things. Either there is a madness, an untamed desire to live and experience and contain everything which often leads to gender-bending music or you get dull, non-confrontational Zen bullshit. As if being complacent, or passive or placid, or whatever bastardization of Buddhism we invent is somehow profound.

Ali’s new found optimism isn’t mad and engrossing. All it does is make him less confrontational, with less desire to jump fully into his ideas. “Before They Called You White” reeks of tokenism, not of anger or of intelligence. Ali wants to take on the invention of whiteness. That’s an interesting topic that people don’t say interesting thing about. I can’t even get angry at Ali missing the cases and histories of racism not done by whites. Nothing is more West-centric than pretending whiteness is the great evil, but at least the idiots who spew that are passionate about it. At his most passionate in his song Ali says ‘Post-Traumatic Slavemaster Syndrom”, which is kind of cool. As for the final hook, it’s ironic. If the eye can’t see itself and needs critique, can I do it to all cultures?

Don’t get the impression that this album provides insight into the racial struggles. Nothing here is like Macklemore’s “White Privilege”, an abomination that was at least interesting. The second time Ali talks about race with focus is on “Dear Black Son”, but since race is everywhere in contemporary discourse the song is not interesting. I don’t mind songs about the Black experience, but don’t expect a “The Blacker the Berry”, something that shows the pain of being marginalized, of being always afraid a random cop will shoot you or that everyone still gives you funny looks despite claiming constantly they’re not racist. There is genuine pain to explore here, but this song is nothing but ‘you’re beautiful and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise’. Considering Ali experienced losing someone to suicide, I think if anyone needs this message, they are people who don’t an identity to give their life meaning.

I digress. This review should talk about how dull Ali’s rapping is on this album. Whatever interesting thing he has to say on “Never Learn”, the best thing about is the bluesy beat. Mostly, it makes me wish I was listening to Grieves who is so talented even when the songs are about nothing he imbues them with emotion. “Never Learn” is just cookie cutter serious Hip-Hop, pleasant on the ear and nothing else. Most of the songs are like this. I don’t get it. Ali is a talented rapper and the first single, “Own Light”, has some life in it. In fact, it does hint that the album might be necessary, taking introspective Hip-Hop to a more optimistic direction and creating the antithesis of Sadistik.

Sadly, the end result is introspective Hip-Hop without much going for it, either in subject matter, atmosphere, tone, wit or anything. The impression is that Ali found peace, and now he doesn’t have much he needs to let out in music besides some joy in “Own Light” and sorrow in “Out of Here”. In the title-track which closes the song, he praises God and overall existence. Forget, for a moment, Ligotti’s pessimism and how existence is always bad. Is that how the passion and love for life should sound like? Isn’t happiness and love wild, untamed emotions which we just can’t contain? Aren’t the best smiles those we can’t control? I’m happy for Ali that he’s at peace, really, but if his heart isn’t in music then he doesn’t have to make music.

Anyone remember “Fresh Air”? Now that’s a song that could cure depression.

2 out of 5 here

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Sadistik x Kno – Phantom Limbs

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At this point, Sadistik is just coasting on talent alone. This may sound good at first that he can knock out great music in his sleep, but it doesn’t. Sadistik isn’t that type of artist.

He’s the man behind Flowers for My Father. There aren’t lot of records that are this emotionally devastating. It’s a record that can only come from a desire to exorcise your emotional demons. Expecting another album like this means hoping something bad will happen to him. I’m too thankful for that album to wish him something bad.

I can be fine with an album like Ultraviolet. It saw him moving towards more abstract raps. It doesn’t sound like he was pouring his heart out. He was using his subject matter of heartbreak and self-loathing to create beautiful poetry and music. So even if “Into the Night” doesn’t have the vulnerability of “Palmreader”, it still has catchy lines and passionate rapping.

There’s no artist I want to hear a song called “To Be in Love” more from than Sadistik. No one will write about how the excitement of love is more sad than beautiful like Sadistik. The song is anemic, though. There’s a nice, slightly gothic beat and a good sample in the chorus. All Sadistik can come up for that is calling his loved Mecca.

That’s it? I kept waiting for something like “Fist-fight just to feel the touch”, or even something that looks silly on paper like “Cracked ribs from the hugs that you gave me”. Sometimes I think I’m hearing him praising her while lowering himself. Again, it’s a concept Sadistik excels at. There aren’t enough songs that connect passionate love with self-loathing, and Sadistik misses the oppurtunity.

All the songs have the same problems. It’s always nice to hear Sadistik rap. His flow is still good, although not as complex. It can’t help but reeks of lines that didn’t make it to Ultraviolet, though. That one already sounds like half of it didn’t make it to Flowers for My Father anyway. The only reason to hear these songs is if you overplay Sadistik’s other material. That’s not something that will happen often, because he has a lot of material and most of it is great.

The production doesn’t help much. There are some beats that sound like maybe Gothic Rock and Hip-Hop can go together. There are also weird forays into Trap. This isn’t an attempt to combine melancholy lyrics with tough guy music for contrasts. These are just snare rolls with a depressed rapper over them. I’m all for sampling Eraserhead (Sadly, the song doesn’t revolve around the film like it could) but what do the snares contribute? This is the man who made “Blue Sunshine”, “Into the Night” and “Petrichor”. Why is he rapping over such generic beats? Is he trying to appeal to the same people who filled the rap canon with borin Boom Bap?

It’s Sadistik being Sadistik, so I can’t call it bad. He’s too talented, and this will get the occasional spin. Nothing here deserves to reach his Best Of though. This is only good for keeping you busy until Sadistik’s next project. It does it well, but there isn’t longevity here.

2.5 limbs out of 5