When you set the bar as high as it goes, are you setting yourself up for failure? This is a question many listeners and critics alike anticipating the latest installment Us by Brother Ali must be wondering. After 2007’s critically acclaimed Undisputed Truth and stealing the spotlight from Ghostface Killah and Rakim on their tour, there doesn’t seem like there was too much for the Brother to prove besides consistency. Following the same structure as The Undisputed Truth, Us is entirely produced by Ant (of Atmosphere) who in my opinion is one of the top ten producers ever, but that’s another story. This time Ali is joined by guests such as Freeway and Joell Ortiz to spice up his act.
After a brief introduction, Ali jumps in full force with “The Preacher,” which displays Ali’s typical style although he sounds a little offbeat. Ali is quick to redeem himself over a beautiful sample on “Crown Jewel” This song is truly a gem in Ali’s catalog in which he paints a vivid picture with imagery like “[I] wear the sky around my shoulder like a tailor-made cloak.”
Ali follows it up with another great track called “House Keys” which has production that sounds handcrafted for an Atmosphere album, but Ali turns it into a track of his own without hesitation. The next track, “Fresh Air” has a sample that’s eerily similar to “Ear to Ear” from The Undisputed Truth. The track isn’t even half bad and it definitely feels like it picks up where Truth left off, which for that reason should have been the first track on Us. “Tight Rope” is another superb track; Ali really proves to be more than a rapper. All of lyrics come from the heart and he has his own style for riding a beat. On another note, the sample used sounds really similar to Atmosphere’s “Pour Me Another” (the same sample from Raekwon’s “Have Mercy), but flipped differently.
“The Travelers” also has excellent production, utilizing steel drums in the sample. Ali proves to have a powerful voice as he tells the tale of slaves forced to travel from Africa to America (“Salt water burn from your wounds/women are starving with babies in their wombs/on your hands in knees trying to cry ‘god please’/it’s obvious your voice is too weak to speak“). “Round Here” is another classic Ali offering which is experimental for Ant as it uses synth-pad style drums while maintaining the usual instrumentally-inspired sample. On “Bad Mufucker pt 2” Ali gets his braggadocio on proclaiming his “nuts got hairy and my voice got raspy/dudes were getting acne, I was getting savy/yes, I’m a bad motherfucker, understand me/grew up eating broken glass in the alley.” “Best At It” probably inspired quite a few heads to check this album out as it has Freeway and Joell Ortiz on it. While Free doesn’t shine too much with his short verse, Joell and Ali show how they’re two of the best at it right now. “Games” is another standout track in which he criticizes so-called hustlers while providing social commentary on those spending out of their means. The album’s closing track, “Us” is another extraordinary track, but would have been more fitting near the opening of the album.
While Us isn’t the instant classic that many felt The Undisputed Truth was, it is by no means a disappointment. Us is a solid effort and better than almost every album to come out this year. Ali has a unique voice and perspective, and his chemistry with Ant cannot be denied. If one thing can be said, Us is just a sampling of the potential Brother Ali has to offer the bland state of Hip-Hop.