It’s been five years since the last full-length Brother Ali LP, but he hasn’t switched up his format. With “Love & Service”, he’s teamed up with unJUST from the Hieroglyphics crew to be his beatsmith on this outing. The premise of the production is that it’s built from samples of children’s educational programming from the 1970s and 1980s. That concept goes hand-in-hand with Ali’s lyrical approach of enlightening his listeners. They’ve released about four to five singles since February and the album contains several surprising guest appearances. Ali’s always had a spiritual bent to his raps and with “Chapter 1” to start the album, featuring writer/poet Rakaya Esime Fetuga among a vocal mixture of Ali’s Muslim chants and words clarifying the album’s title.

The first single “Ottomans” then begins, with Ali making both historical and braggadocious rhymes while stressing knowledge of self. unJUST’s production is a mix of lo-fi piano and woodwind samples with interesting drum patterns. “Awaken” begins like a classic MF DOOM production: Sampling of a vintage animated TV series, but switches to a flute/guitar sample mix for the beat. Lyrically, Ali’s pen game has improved as he makes greater use of internal rhymes here as he spins a yarn about consequence. On “The Collapse”, Ali raps from his activist mindset, giving poetic descriptions of what he’s seen in that role over unJUST’s melancholic but desperate soundscape which is complete with folksy guitar samples and sirens. The posse cut “Manik” is Ali having fun with his friends, namely Casual and Rhymesayers labelmate Aesop Rock. Refusing to get outshined on his own track, Ali saves the best raps for last:



“Nom De Plume” has the best beat from unJUST thus far and Ali spazzes out over it with lines such as “A superhero doesn’t need to wear a cape to prevail / Just the willingness to kill and give a sacred farewell”. “Cadillac” is a narrative about his father-in-law’s encounter with police racial profiling over a bluesy guitar. “Howlin’ Wolf” is built from a familiar vintage sample and self-reflective lyrics laid over. The jazzy noir-ish single “Gauntlet” is a surprise. Roc Marciano is the guest feature and spits his hustler rhymes without breaking a sweat. This may be a Brother Ali track with unJUST production, but it could easily belong to Roc Marci on both counts:



“Ghosts” has a danceable vibe to the production to contrast the mature subject matter, like De La Soul’s “Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)”. Here, the topic is dead friendships, whether from lost connections to being flat-out ghosted. Quelle Chris lends his raps here and sounds good even with his customary monotone delivery. The title-track seems to be most overtly political track, making allusions to government regimes and the results their actions bring. Closing the album, are the soulful “Worthy” and then “Inside”, with it’s lo-fi soul production to coincide with the spiritual message. Brother Ali has stuck with the “one emcee/one producer” formula throughout his career and it works each time. And as an emcee, he shown an enhancement to his lyrical skill. Though the title may evoke imagery of “preachy and evangelical”, “Love & Service” is anything but.


Brother Ali x unJUST :: Love & Service
8.5Overall Score