Brother Ali 

The Undisputed Truth

What made Brother Ali's 2004 track "Forest Whitaker" one of the best confessional rap songs of all time wasn't its pathos, but its specificity of detail. It wasn't one of those self-flagellating but humorous tracks in which an emcee concedes that he's ugly, his nose is big, and he likes his oatmeal lumpy. Rather, Ali explained in flat, matter-of-fact verse, precisely what makes him so undesirable: I'm albino man, I know I'm pink and pale/And I'm hairy as hell, everywhere but fingernails. He tries to shore up the same sentiment in this year's sophomore album, The Undisputed Truth. The closest he gets is "Walking Away" — a bruising Dear Jane letter to his ex-wife, rapped over an eerily perky whistling sample — and "Daylight," on which the emcee analyzes all his insecurities about being a white artist in a black medium. (Granted, if ever a white person were to gain virtue by suffering, Brother Ali would be the one; you can't really knock a guy who's endured homelessness, a broken marriage, and the curse of translucent skin.). While no track on The Undisputed Truth ever quite reaches the bluntness of "Forest Whitaker," the album stands out for its emotional depth. It traces Ali's process of self-scrutiny without devolving into self-immolation. And if you're able to think of truth as something individual and contingent rather than absolute, then the album lives up to its title.

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