Cats can’t rap forever. But if they’re going to try they must embrace evolution; the artistic growth that we, the ever-connected listening public, have come to demand from our musical heroes. We rewarded the Beastie Boys’ transformation from glue-sniffing sex fiends into global humanitarians, Eminem’s growth from shock-core brat to serious songwriter, and Jay-Z’s reflective progression from crack dealer to label mogul. Brother Ali’s always been a pretty heady dude, but we all possess room for growth. In fact, he recently published an editorial, entitled “The Intersection of Homophobia and Hip-Hop: Where Tyler Met Frank,” for The Huffington Post, in which he condemns his own past use of the F-word. Such awareness and self-evaluation encompass the vibe of Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color; the journey of a man who’s been lumped up by the record industry, and life at large, but emerged in the present as well-seasoned, wiser and thankful for the opportunity to drop another record.
When you read that an artist has “grown up” or “matured,” that can often be a red flag signifying he/she has gone soft and we’re forced to endure a record we respect but don’t especially enjoy, kind of like that cinematic root-canal The Tree of Life… This identification could be particularly worrisome with an artist like Ali who’s made a living off knocking rappers out with verbal rope-a-dopes like those thrown by his namesake. By tracks four and five (“Mourning in America” and “Gather Round”), however, this concern is assuaged by Jake-One’s haunting knock and Ali’s trademark breathy delivery. The 1-2 combination paves the way for soulful standouts like “Letter to My Countrymen” (reminiscent of Common’s “Be”), “Only Life I Know” and “Namesake” (peace to Cassius Clay). Jake-One handles all 14 tracks and does a capable job of it, though a track or two from Ant would be nice. Ali touches on every heavy topic under the sun but it’s the more personal anecdotes, like flying home from Europe to attend his Dad’s funeral or coming off tour to find his son neglected and injured that hit hardest and make Mourning in America worth copping.
– Jeff Artist