Brother Ali | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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You might wonder why the latest release from Brother Ali is called Champion EP--at 39 minutes, it's not much shorter than the new full-length by PJ Harvey. The designation makes some sense, though: rather than a fully realized follow-up to the Minneapolis MC's superb Shadows on the Sun (Rhymesayers, 2003), this nine-track set reads more as a preview of where Ali might be headed next. "Bad Ma Fucka," with its "Lose Yourself"-style rock guitar, would have been too aggressive for the good-natured flow of Shadows: "I don't have a Plan B / I don't have a mom and dad to help me land on my feet," he sneers, "I gotta react / Not for nothing just to cuss you / Ain't nothing subtle about an old-fashioned 'fuck you.'" He goes lighter on "Heads Down (You Haven't Done That Yet)," an exhortation to perform cunnilingus ("Put it to your face / And taste creation of the human race"), while "Love on Display" is an ode to the underground rapper's life: "Drove in Omaha, be flowin' for hick-ass kids / Know that I was home I hit that shit...I either write the new shit / Or feel my life is useless." As winning as Ali is, the music makes him better: returning producer Ant (of Atmosphere fame) reconfigures 70s funk and 80s R & B into friendly, loping grooves--check the bluesy bounce of "Waheedah's Hands," or the organ undercarriage and gospel-vocal trim on "Rain Water"--that sound something like Kanye West on a tighter sample budget. One Man Army, Musab, and Psalm One open. $12 in advance, $15 the day of the show; 18+. Saturday, June 26, 8 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace; 773-478-4408 or 866-777-8932.

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