The Truth is Here is a victory lap for the celebrated Rhymesayers MC Brother Ali, as well as something to hold fans over until his new record Street Preacher drops in the fall. It follows in the tradition of the Champion EP, released between Shadows on the Sun and The Undisputed Truth, the album that won him national and international acclaim. As Ali says on the opening “Real As Can Be,” he’s “finally got to see what all that grindin’ been for.”
Ali’s palpable sense of accomplishment, however, doesn’t mean his work is done. Truth showcases Ali’s verbal and narrative dexterity, ranging from the anthemic, guns-blazing “Philistine David” to a charmingly endearing voice chatting a woman up on “Baby Don’t Go.” And while he has never shied away from speaking on Islam—he continues to do so explicitly on the EP’s single, “Good Lord”—it is on this record that we hear him beginning songs with Quranic chanting, a la Mos Def.
Dedicated Ali fans will recognize some of the songs and references from Ali’s past body of work. If the title character of “Little Rodney” sounds familiar, it’s because he’s mentioned in “Room With a View” from Shadows on the Sun (“fuck with Little Rodney and you get all of your ribs cracked”). “Talkin’ My Shit” and “Palm the Joker” are B-sides of the limited edition red, white, and blue vinyl singles for “Uncle Sam Goddam.”
The almost joyous chipmunked violins and vocals of “Palm the Joker” serve as an ironic foundation for Ali’s words, a terse yet wide-ranging story of everyday street and apocalyptic violence. There are poignant moments throughout that song’s dense narrative, as Ali crafts the eloquently-delivered image of “a poor victim’s face / reflected on the pawnshop pistol case.” In the end, the prescription is for a “reverse magic trick,” making all that’s wrong with the world, and the reasons behind it, appear instead of disappear.
Ripping down veils of ignorance has long characterized Ali’s work, regardless of the consequences—“Uncle Sam Goddam” got him in trouble with a tour sponsor, Verizon. (In this vein, give a listen to “2nd Time Around,” his blistering contribution to the 10 Deep mixtape The New Deal.) The Truth Is Here is no different. In “Little Rodney,” much of the song is based around a prison letter sent to Ali from the title character. Widening his horizon to the American prison-industrial complex, he intones, “tell your stories through me and feel free.”
As good as it is, much like the Champion EP, The Truth Is Here pales in comparison to the full-lengths it bridges. Fans can be confident that Street Preacher will continue to find the MC speaking truth, both to power and to his growing legions of fans.
Justin Schell (email@example.com) is a freelance writer and a grad student at the University of Minnesota’s Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society program. He’s working on a dissertation on Twin Cities immigrant and diasporic hip-hop and plays the washboard tie with The Gated Community.