Letter To My Countrymen - Brother Ali

from the album Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color (2012)

I have a love / hate relationship with rap.  As an art form, it provides an incredibly poetic platform for self-expression.  However, I get frustrated that more rappers do not harness its power.  It's like dressing Heide Klum in a burka.

My two favorite rap songs of all time are The Message by Grandmaster Flash + The Furious Five and Ms. Jackson by Outcast.  Both songs have powerful lyrics.  One song has a guy asking "What the hell is going on around here?  You people have me at the breaking point."  The other has a guy telling his girlfriend's mother "Treat me with respect, because I'm a guy who treats your daughter with respect."  In both cases, the songs deliver a truthful, real-world message that is stronger because it is rap.

So, I dig Brother Ali for extending this letter to his countrymen.  He takes his message and elegantly lays it out.  I hope people are listening.  It starts like this:

I used to think I hated this place
Couldn't wait to tell the President straight to his face
Maybe I changed, nowadays I embrace it all
Beautiful ideals and amazing flaws
Gotta care enough to give a testament
Above the deeply depressing mess we're in
It's home so we better make the best of it
I wanna make this country what it says it is

As righteous as that is, it is the end of the song, where Dr. Cornel West of Princeton University injects his point of view, that puts recording over the top.  He is that crazy "Don King meets Spike Lee" looking dude you see on shows like Real Time with Bill Maher. For a long time, I dismissed him.  But then I began to listen closer and I realized this cat has substance and soul. His reply to Brother Ali goes like this:

My Dear Brother Ali,
I think you know deep down in your soul that something, something just ain't right 
You don't want to be just well adjusted to injustice and well adapted to indifference
You want to be a person of integrity who leaves a mark on the world
People can say when you go that you left the world a little better than you found it
I understand.  I want to be like that too.

Songs like this do justice to the art form.

Click Here to listen to the song.

Click Here to watch Brother Ali talk about the album.

Comments

  1. Great selections here. And I totally share your sentiment regarding rap. I can't help but rally around Public Enemy's body of work -- the layered textures of Terminator X on a track like B Side Wins Again to the succinct yet powerful 82 seconds of of Chuck D lyrics in "Rebirth" really pushed the boundaries of the medium. Not familiar with anyone covering that same breadth these days

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  2. just heard PE is among those inducted into this year's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Well deserved. Except maybe that Flava Flav guy.

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