After a five-year hiatus since the release of Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, Minnesota rapper Brother Ali — one of Rhymesayers' most revered acts — is back with a new collection that stands as a refreshing beacon in the current sea of releases. "I always take a long time," he tells Exclaim! "I don't really like to be creative if I don't feel like I have something that I really want to offer. So when I'm full, then I feel like sharing — and then when I'm not, then I just don't.
"I was trying to get the heart right," he explains "get my heart right so that I can really live more freely and live more fully." His sixth studio album, All The Beauty In This Whole Life (out now) is an amalgamation of that journey — a collection of "experiences."
The fact that he describes releasing music as sharing is quite fitting, given the deeply personal nature of his discography. His past albums — his last few especially — seem to have followed a linear story of his life. This piece of him focuses heavily on his spirituality. "It's just really about that seeking. Seeking the divine presence, seeking meaning, seeking connection, seeking to be our truest self — and give life meaning."
As we go along on this journey with him, he gives us insight into his childhood with albinism, the suicide of his father and grandfather and a fresh approach to the conversation of police violence in America in the form of an audio letter to his son. "I've always done that. That's one of the things that I feel good about," he says when talking about how open he is on records. "There are certain topics that can only be talked about from a really personal perspective to be effective."
Like many of his past releases, this new album was produced entirely by Ant, the main producer for the critically acclaimed Atmosphere. "It's everything," says Brother Ali matter-of-factly. "Especially those personal songs, I just can't do them with somebody else." His last album, 2012's Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color was produced was produced entirely by Jake One, whom he considers a dear friend. "We have love for each other...but I can't get there [musically] with Jake. It can only be Ant."
What is most admirable is the project's overall approachability — something many writers have praised him for in the past. Shattering unfounded misinformation, he does a wonderful job showing a loving, peaceful side of the Islamic faith that goes largely ignored by the media. We get to see insight and everyday experiences of an intelligent well-spoken Islamic MC navigating a new world. "I'm not necessarily trying to convert people to Islam or demand that spiritual path look like mine. Different people have different experiences, and it doesn't mean that somebody else's search for meaning isn't valid. Everybody is longing for meaning, and their search for meaning is valid."