UNDERGROUND HIT MAN 


Brother Ali channels his inner Gershwin on The Undisputed Truth, calling one of his new tracks a "show tune" for which the show has yet to be written. The Minnesota-based albino Muslim MC keeps topics in a zip-locked range on his official sophomore LP, but the subjects are rich with intimate and political perspectives, the latter free of underdeveloped mockery of easy Republican targets. The Undisputed Truth's "Uncle Sam Goddamn" finds Brother Ali remembering those once enslaved under American law. He pairs these verses with eloquent protest rhymes ("The government's the addict, with a billion-dollar-a-week kill-brown-people habit") against producer Ant's crisp guitar samples and distant bluesman vocalizing, contending it's merely his viewpoint on wax.

"All I can really say is that my particular approach is that I try to keep it really personal," says Ali. "That's why it doesn't feel like it's over the top. I'm saying that there is another perspective, or just the way that I feel about it, the way that it looks it to me. You're never going to get the full picture of what hip-hop has to offer just by looking at the TV or listening to the radio. There are a lot of people doing that in the underground."

Citing MCs Mr. Lif and Immortal Technique as purveyors of smart, political hip-hop, Brother Ali explains that the underground is where MCs are less concerned with posturing and watered-down, safe beats than they are with inciting debate and fashioning honest rhymes. Although Ali also exercises his own bragging rights on Undisputed's hand-clapping "Pedigree" — where more of Ant's crackling piano loops and quick cuts coincide with his partner's boastful diatribe — the two never lose the fast-churning, always-underground evolution that sparked with the onset of their pairing for 2004's Shadows on the Sun.

"Certain record labels bring artists out all the time, they never develop them, and they put a lot of pressure on them to just turn out a hit right away," he says. "They're really marketing to the lowest common denominator, the things that they feel can get them the most reliable, least-risk hits, where they talk a lot about a small portion of what hip hop really is: overglorified, overexaggerated crimes, sex, money and stuff. Hip-hop is really about where real people are at. It's always been there to give a voice to people who don't have a voice or an outlet. That's why you still have the underground. The underground still has that."

music@orlandoweekly.com

More by Dominic Umile

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