Ali'Yah (D.Black)

The personal and musical metamorphosis of D. Black is a revelation around the 206 these days. In the span of time between the rapper’s debut album, The Cause and Effect, and his latest LP, Ali’Yah, a transformation seems to have taken place in the young man’s heart, mind, and soul which has much to do with assuming new grown-up responsibilities (marriage and the birth of a child) and, as Black has made very clear in recent interviews, a spiritual awakening that’s granted him new perspectives and motivations on why he does what he does.

Regardless of what you believe personally, the overarching force that gives Ali’Yah its potency is the same rare phenomenon that provides all great music their particular validations: honesty. On his new record, D. Black believes firmly in what he’s doing, which is making music for his children, family, and community without fear of contributing negatively to the advancement of those loved ones. He wants to make responsible music for the betterment of his people. In this sense then, Ali’Yah is a soaring achievement.

The seeds for this revolution were planted in The Cause and Effect which, for all its boastfulness, negativity, and hurt, still contained glimmers of both optimism and recognition of why the old D. Black was full of so much anger. That album’s best tracks were, by far, the introspective ones (“This is Why”, “Survive”) which seem to have paved the way for Ali’Yah, a record that can literally be played anywhere. I would feel equally comfortable bumping this album in my car, around small children, or even in church.

Positivity is the rule of the day here. There is no cursing. All the references to bullets flying are accompanied by a call to those responsible to put their burners down. Tales of graphic street violence are omitted and, in their absence, Black has put-forth challenges to the community to better itself (“Keep On Going”). Spiritual growth is also a major theme throughout Ali’Yah and, while not overtly preachy, Black isn’t ashamed to show reverence for the most high on “Close to Yah” (featuring Sportn’ Life labelmate, Fatal Lucciauno).

And, while Black doesn’t shy away from braggadocio, here it’s accomplished more humbly, less as a way to inflict gratuitous verbal beatdowns on wack-ass rappers (which, incidentally, isn’t necessary — it’s obvious D. Black is one of the best emcees in Seattle) and more as a way to progress his positive message. “The Return” is an edict that serves to announce his grand re-entrance to the game while simultaneously calling-out those fake studio gangsters that poison the art form and culture of hip-hop.

Musically, there isn’t one track that stands head and shoulders above the rest, which is actually okay. Albums that endure over time often stand on their conceptual completeness, a trait that Ali’Yah possesses. You probably won’t see a hit single come off this album but there is a satisfying cohesiveness that’s absent on most hip-hop records. Overall, the production is soulful, with a lot of sung hooks (local favorite Choklate blesses a track), but not at the expense of traditional boom-bap, which is to be expected from the likes of Jake One and Vitamin D who handle most of the arrangements.

It’s probably unfair to compare The Cause and Effect to Ali’Yah because they’re such starkly different albums, but the association is unavoidable. While The Cause contained all the traditional elements of aggressive, street-oriented rap, a secondary listen today — in light of what Black has accomplished on Ali’Yah — reveals a tired sound, an almost lethargic Black compared to the new version who is so obviously energized and excited about a new direction.

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Ali’Yah is that the rapper, even though he has so blatantly eliminated the guns, drugs, and women (aka, the “realness”), has not lost his credibility. In fact, he seems to have gained more of it. The word “ali’yah” means “ascent” in Hebrew. Here, D. Black has ascended beyond what other rappers have not, surpassed expectations built by his first album, and become a torch-bearer for what hip-hop music is truly capable of.

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