On Tuesday, American hip-hop artist Brother Ali released a politically charged album called Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color.
Inspired creatively by his Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, the Arab Spring, and the Occupy movement, Brother Ali criticizes everything from America’s wars to race relations to poverty on his new album. The hip-hop artists seeks to raise awareness of political and social issues and to motivate a democratic public to empower themselves through action. Brother Ali’s forceful style truly delivers his hard-hitting critiques, while his energetic beats keep the music rousing and motivational.
Brother Ali is a white, Midwestern Muslim. He was born with albinism, which has made him both extremely pale and legally blind. Though his family is white, Brother Ali felt marginalized as a student for his physical abnormalities, making him feel, “most at home amongst African-Americans.” He identifies strongly with the black community, who taught him “life and manhood” and “inspired” him; he has been practicing Islam for 19 years.
On the album, the song “Mourning in America” slams what he sees as the U.S.’s culture of violence. Starting with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Brother Ali critiques what he sees as a class-based double-standard that condemns radical Islamic terrorism yet supports American “murder” in the Middle East: “Terrorism is the war of the poor/Hold up a mirror so the script get flipped/Cause when it’s in reverse it ain’t wrong no more/Warfare’s the terrorism of the rich.” Both sides kill innocent civilians, so we should critique the U.S. as well as terrorists. “A killer is a killer ... It’s a very thin line between a soldier and a terrorist,” he says.
Brother Ali moves onto violence at home. He argues that violence imparts irreversible psychological damage on a generation, who perpetuates a culture of destruction. When veterans arrive home, they are met with post-traumatic stress disorder, failing schools, urban decay, and crime. Society ignores veterans and fails to reintegrate them into society, allowing vulnerable people to fall into a vicious cycle of crime or continue to get marginalized by society.
Other topics on the album include the institutionalization of poverty in the U.S. In “Only Life I Know,” Brother Ali says that poverty has demoralized and destroyed a generation of young people. Symptoms of poverty include housing failures (“projects or trailer park mess”) and warped views on gender identity (“Boys on the corner pushing out their chest/Questing for anything that resemble respect/Young girls ... Looking for affection settling for sex”). To combat pain and hatred in their environments, these youth turn to drugs. Brother Ali implies that the U.S. intentionally keeps these kids in poverty. Instead of providing steady jobs at home and decent education, the government leaves them with three options: obey society’s rules and die as poor as when you started, resort to crime, or depend on welfare.
Brother Ali’s tone is angry and highly critical. He spits hard, consonant words (“kill kill kill”) to hammer home his point about death. Yet his old-school hip-hop rhythm moves his music forward, conveying a sense of eagerness to change the world. He opens his album with optimistic messages; his first track, “Letter to My Countrymen,” which features philosopher Dr. Cornel West, is a sunny reflection on the U.S.’s “beautiful ideals and amazing flaws,” that insists “[The U.S. is] home so we better make the best of it” in a self-critical analysis and action.
Brother Ali’s hip-hop is forceful, optimistic — and very catchy musically. His thoughtful meditations on American society are a breath of fresh air at a time when fluff and auto-tune dominate the airwaves.