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Brother Ali

On his much-hyped second full-length album, rapper Brother Ali (an associate of Ant and Slug from Atmosphere) barks authoritatively like a true-believer preacher, flexing a smooth, articulate, charismatic flow that is genuinely appealing.

Likewise, the music on this Ant-produced CD is a highly listenable combination of old-school turntable-scratching and contemporary "undie" hip hop with an emphasis on inventive samples, especially those of heavy-metal guitars.

But my hopes for The Undisputed Truth flagged when I heard its opening track, "Whatcha Got," which opens with a typical "check one, two" salutation and then finds Ali exploring the many tedious methods of extolling his own rap skills while pronouncing those of opposing MCs to be wack. There's a fine line between paying homage to battle-rap traditions and just plain sounding cliché. Such is the case on this track.

However, my faith in his originality was restored on subsequent tracks. Showing off a thoughtful approach, Ali takes on subjects such as fatherhood, his Muslim faith, the irony of urban violence, the hypocrisy of Western culture and the small compromises we constantly face, and the search for depth and substance in everyday life.

You might wonder if, with topics like those, Ali has bitten off more than he can chew, but that's hardly the point. There's more than enough meat in his raps to sink your teeth into.

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