DNA Album Spotlight: Brother Ali & unJUST Bring The Love & Service

DNA Album Spotlight by Shann Bajwa  
Brother Ali & unJUST Bring The Love & Service
Written by Shaan Bajwa

The latest full length album from Brother Ali since his collaboration with Evidence, Secrets & Escapes in 2019, is Love & Service. This time he's teamed up with unJUST, which looking at it written out, feels like an equal opposite to the tape he did with Evidence, but not just in name. On that album, the tone was much more serious and almost ominous, whereas this time around, he's a bit more peaceful sounding. Not to say that Brother Ali is known to be an aggressive rapper, aside from the track “Bitchslap”. With there only being an EP in between the two
projects, the parallels are there, but that could be a bit of a reach.

The project is an easy listen, mostly due to the production and vocal performances from Ali. The beats, according to Ali's newsletter, "are a collage of educational children's films from the 70s and 80s chopped and flipped in the classic ASR-10 sampler". This accompanied by Brother Ali's voice, really helps to, at least for me, kinda calm down and almost meditate, as silly as that may sound. Additionally, there will be a video for each track on the project, and each will be animated
by unJUST as well.

Throughout this tape, Brother Ali touches on a handful of topics. Many of which, to me, feel pretty subtle. Brother Ali, to me, has often had a delivery and tone that is a bit more melodic and almost unassuming. He's obviously got some things to say, but it's not always the first thing I hear. So, even though this project might touch on some morose and existential topics, the delivery, and production to an even greater extent, almost misleads you. Through many of my initial listens, I treated this project more as a palette cleanser and a hopeful reprieve from the ongoing rap beefs, but the more I get into it, the messages delivered are starting to hit differently.

There's a few songs on here that are definitely more rap-rap leaning, where while there's something to be pulled from it, it's not as much of a focus it feels. The project starts off with one such track, “Ottomans”, where Brother Ali mentioned on his podcast that he basically wrote this while watching Locksmith on Sway in the Morning, and he wanted something to have if they both ended up on the show at the same time. With that said though, there is a line that I pulled that I feel connects to another track; "I'm absolutely not a pastor, I'm just passionate about the
sought-after heart of the matter". The pastor bit has always been something that I envisioned Ali to be. Even when I saw him back in 2017, it felt like a sermon to some degree. It also has ties to the track “Howlin' Wolf as well, because on that track it almost feels like he's acting as a preacher, but also as “an MC with solid crowd control by basically asking "if y'all wanna keep going, we'll rock for hours, easily".

One of the other songs that are in that rap-rap vein, is “Manik” with Casual and Aesop Rock. On his podcast, Brother Ali mentioned that normally when he's on a song like this, where the featured artists are really dope rappers, he would choose more of a melodic song, because that's where he could really shine. This time however, he was more out of his element, but still held his own pretty well considering his competition.

Moving through the tracklist, everything flows pretty well together. He leans well into addressing major social issues such as what's going on in Gaza with The Collapse, where in the intro he mentions "Everyone kept dancing / while it was all collapsing / the warning lights were flashing /but they just found it dazzling". He also addresses racial issues in America with the track “Cadillac”. This track is either a story of Ali and his father in law, or a story he's heard. Long story short, the two were driving in a Cadillac back in the day, got pulled over, and it turns out
the police got the wrong people. They just happened to fit the description of two black men. It could be either about Ali or a story because Ali grew up around many black people and police may have assumed things, or again, could entirely be a story he's heard.

Ali gets back to bigger conceptual thoughts with “Ghosts”, where he's talking about all the people who have been in his life at one point or another, and for some reason may not be there currently. He talks about how he's grateful that they were in his life at some point as well.

Most of the topics are wrapped up with the title track, Love & Service, and although this one does well as a conclusion, the remaining two tracks make perfect sense. The project ends with a very positive vibe. With “Worthy”, the main takeaway is that we're all worthy of love, and that in itself says a lot. I'm sure the initial reaction for many people that hear this would be "oh yeah, obviously", but something about the way it's being said makes it connect better. Then finally we end with Inside, which feels more like a goodbye from Ali. He's addressed so many things that have been on his mind, either personally or globally, and he can't let these things stay on the
inside. He has to get these thoughts and emotions out. Which again is a nice way to round out an album, because you could probably think to yourself that there's a lot going on in your life that we may default to keep to ourselves, but it might not be the best way to go about things.

Overall, the project is really solid and an enjoyable listen throughout, even if you're like me on the first few listens and just vibe out to it. It's definitely one of those projects that's grown on me the more I've listened to it, but that goes for most projects. Ali is still rapping at a good level, and just as always, it's great to see a rapper and producer lock in for an entire project. 

-Shaan Bajwa @BajwaShoots

Production Credits: Full album produced, animated & designed by the great unJUST. - Brother Ali

My favorite tracks are: Ottomans, Awaken, Manik, Ghosts, and Worthy
Check the video review on YouTube: https://youtu.be/ClrtwIMIrRs

Follow Brother Ali: @BrotherAliIsBlind
Follow unJUST: @unjust_f3w

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