If you’re going to listen to one album this Tuesday, it has to be Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color by Brother Ali. This album sets itself apart from other hip-hop albums because it opens up the audience to the world of the artist as he sees it. Brother Ali covers topics like his albinism, family, conversion to Islam, and the War on Terror.
Growing up in North Minneapolis in the 1980s, Jason Newman, now known as Brother Ali, regularly skipped class and hung out on the streets instead. It was then that he developed his love for communicating his feelings and opinions through poetic lyrics.
In 2003, Brother Ali released his first studio production, Shadows in the Sun, which was positively received by listeners. A year later, he came out with his first EP in 2004, entitled Champion EP. In 2007, The Undisputed Truth came out, followed by The Truth is Here and Us in 2009. A few months ago, The Bite Marked Heart was released.
Brother Ali converted to Islam at 15 under Imam W. Deen Mohammed, who was credited with shifting the Nation of Islam to conventional Islam. Many years ago, when Imam Mohammed wanted to send a few kids to Malaysia to study the coexistence of Islam with other religions, he chose Brother Ali.
The album is divided into two parts. The first deals with serious subjects like the suicide of his father, divorce, custody battles for his son, poverty in America, and the War on Terror.
The second part optimistically addresses the revolutions in the Arab world and the worldwide Occupy movements. Beginning with the track, “Fajr,” which is Arabic for “dawn,” Brother Ali moves away from heavy issues like homelessness and unemployment to more uplifting messages. His recent pilgrimage to Mecca, which he sings about, represents a new phase in Brother Ali’s life: one full of hope, motivation and proactivity.
The release of Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color couldn’t come at a more fitting time. Last week, protesters at U.S. embassies outraged by an American-made film defaming the Prophet Muhammad spread to several Muslim-majority countries, including Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq, and Libya.
It isn’t a coincidence that these protests erupted in regions where there exists strong opposition to American foreign policy. One of the topics Brother Ali sings about is U.S. involvement abroad. In the title track, “Mourning in America,” he unabashedly condemns U.S. military activity.
Warfare’s the terrorism of the rich
The golden age of hip-hip is a major inspiration for Brother Ali. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, underground rappers like KRS-One and Rakim paved the way for rappers with new sounds. Most importantly, the era established the musician as an individual, not as an extension of marketing conglomerates, allowing for a high level of artistic freedom.
Despite his appreciation for underground rap, Brother Ali is appreciative of mainstream artists like Jay-Z, 50 Cent, and Lil Wayne as well as others like Lupe Fiasco, Talib Kweli, and Mos Def who adhere to traditional hip-hip influences.
Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color is a new stage in Brother Ali’s career. It sets itself apart from the rest of his music in that it is deeply personal and political, yet has an underlying message of hope.
Until the album drops on Tuesday, a preview of Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color is available on Brother Ali’s website.