Brother Ali – The Truth is Here

5 out of 5

Label: Rhymesayers

Produced by: Ant

Between the more poetic style of his earlier works and the targeted, politically charged and community-minded themes that began to dominate a few albums into his career, Brother Ali’s persona was one of balance, shuffling lightly between his personal narratives and worldly tirades with a little more pep in his step, both the preacher and prankster. This persona is neither better or worse than what came before or after – Ali has dropped some genius, if dense, albums in his discography – but it’s probably more directly digestible, and encapsulates the big Why of the rapper being such a standout amidst many talents on Rhymesayers’ roster: he can battle, he can drop bars, and he can do the smart stuff, with some of the slickest and sprightly delivery of his generation. Matched with a great producer (which he often has been), that cross-section of skills is amped up immensely, and B-sides EP The Truth Is Here is the most focused capture of all of that.

With every track here produced by Ant, the picked-and-chosen nature of the set favors more aggressive / poppy beats than the producer’s tendency toward laid-back soul, which is fitting for the time – 2009 – in which it was released, as Any was bringing in more rock and upbeat influences at the time. Still, his preference for old school is used to bookend the album, with the very Atmosphere-y opener Real As Can Be, and equally grooving closer Begin Here. Slug himself shows up for a collab on The Believers – a boast track, of course – and as per usual with the emcee, his guest rhyme are some of his best, and he sounds especially youthful and sharp when paired with Ali in this mode.

As mentioned, we get the full cycle of BA’s storytelling here – Philistine David is observational angst; Palm the Joker is Us style inspiration; Baby Don’t Go is a bouncy love croon – and if it’s all perhaps a few layers more shallow than some of his best examples of the same, that’s perhaps only because, in part, everything’s condensed together as, essentially, a compilation; you don’t get the buildup of themes. However, that these could all act as singles, and feature the emcee just owning every moment of the tracks, with Ant’s creativity in full force… it pushes past that slight criticism, especially given how the sequencing appropriately winds us through the varying moods so that each track feels bested by the next, and the next, and then you realize you’ve got the thing looping.

I love Brother Ali, but I’ll admit that I tend to hesitate to put on some of his albums because they can be quite heavy. Alternately, when he’s themed releases around comparatively lighter fare, his can be a bit maudlin. The Truth Is Here cuts through both of those, giving us laser-focused examples of the best of what Ali has to offer, and easily comes across as a legit album – one of his best! – despite actually being a collection of unreleased tracks.