Over Brother Ali
As a member of Minneapolis' Rhymesayers collective (alongside Atmosphere, Eyedea & Abilities, and others), Brother Ali perfectly encapsulates that heralded crew's aesthetic. He has a knack for insightful lyrics, but he tempers these emo tendencies with tough-guy bravado and a stinging litany of battle-ready insults. Inspired by pioneering emcees like Slick Rick and KRS-One, he began rapping at the age of 15. In 2000, he released his cassette-only debut, Rites of Passage, followed by the excellent Shadows on the Sun in 2003. Though that album was well received by critics and the Rhymesayers faithful, it failed to catch on with the general public, and Ali spent the next two years fighting poverty and engaged in a bitter custody battle with his ex-wife, whom he claims was both mentally and physically abusive toward him and his son. The blood and tears were on full display on his next disc, The Undisputed Truth. For that record, Ali scaled back some of the bravado and explored his inner emotional fissures. Once again, the album gained critical praise and a cult following, but failed to make an impression on the wider listening audience.