Song of the Day: Brother Ali – Pen to Paper

photo by Colleen Eversman

photo by Colleen Eversman

Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the day podcast subscription.  This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJ’s think you should hear.  Today’s song, featured on the Afternoon Show with Kevin Cole, is “Pen to Paper” by Brother Ali from his upcoming album, All The Beauty In This Whole Life, due May 5th on Rhymesayers.

Brother Ali – Pen to Paper (MP3)If you’re looking for a rapper with a story, Brother Ali (born Jason Douglas Newman), the Minneapolis-studded emcee, is easily worth the read. Seventeen years and five LPs into his hip-hop career leaves plenty of room for his attitude-posi vignettes of spiritual and personal messages. His catalogue forms a cathartic crew of hard-mouthed and open-hearted anecdotes set in the challenges and triumphs of quotidian life and socio-political issues. It’s been five years since his last release Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color and now Brother Ali is back with his vehement verses to release his sixth LP All The Beauty In This Whole Life (produced by Anthony Davis of Atmosphere) out May 5. Brother Ali’s message is so sagaciously steeped in activism and culture at large that the opening track to his last album Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color featured a collaborative outro with the accolade-studded Dr. Cornel West.

Brother Ali’s newest single off of All The Beauty In This Whole Life is “Pen to Paper” – a two-minute quick, but quick-witted bruiser that takes the listener through childhood memories of KRS and vulnerably into a PSA about keeping his truth-telling integrity in the face of adversities. The attack of the anecdote isn’t terse, but rather diligently distilled. A dark-scaled dance of weighted piano keys kicks off the song ultimately foreshadowing the personal weight of angst the thirty-nine year-old emcee lyrically relieves from his chest. Quick into the beat is the ominously sustained drone of a deep-timbre horn like that of the Titanic signaling “All aboard!” This horn layer is soundly positioned against the drum-crunchy beat, which adds a dynamic contrast the soul-spirited horns throughout a lot of his catalogue. From the easily enamoring song, the two minutes and twenty seconds swiftly go by and you’re left craving dose after dose. When you’ve been spitting rhymes for close to thirty years – having started at eight or nine as referenced in “Pen to Paper” – your knack for words and fluidity naturally flow like the mighty Nile surging a current of energy up from it’s mouth. In this case, Brother Ali is a mighty force of musical nature.

You can most likely catch Brother Ali at a music venue near you while he’s on his US tour May through July. Keep tabs on his tour and upcoming news on his website and Facebook page. If you need another dose of new music from Brother Ali’s All The Beauty In This Whole Life, then watch the music video for “One Light (What Hearts Are For)” below.

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