Hip-Hop Artist Gets Happy and Still Lyrically Moves the Masses
He’s the only MC to refer to himself as Howard Zinn meets Howard Stern! Coming straight out of Minnesota, it’s the one and only Brother Ali. Ali is back with his latest disc simply entitled “US.” On the new disc, Ali keeps up his streak of being able to tell stories and twist metaphors, but some of these tunes actually sound happy! Ali is celebrating fatherhood and his new marriage on this disc, while still waxing poetically on the state of affairs in our society. He is on tour now but he was ready to throw down with me about his new disc and the other new facets of his life.
David Carr: Brother Ali how are you feeling as you start this tour? Are you excited about promoting your new disc?
Brother Ali: You know I have struggled for so long to get my life to reflect who I am as a person and now it is really starting to happen. The pieces are finally falling into place. Most people just go with the next best thing. Most people just figure they have to settle and not realize their true potential. Slug from Atmosphere taught me how to do this. He taught me how to really go for what I want and really be who I am. He changed my opinion of what I can do and achieve — I have rebuilt my life.
DC: What has this new found sense of self, meant to you as an artist?
BA: Overall, I just have a sense that I do not have to be in survival mode anymore. My faith and my beliefs have really helped me reach this point — now I am able to share what I have with others. I have been trying to get some peace in my life — a lot of my past songs had a “F#ck you for not understanding” attitude. I think now I am really trying to be close to and share things with folks who are very different than me.
DC: Being one of the only albino, Muslim rappers in hip-hop my sense is you know all about being different. Do you feel a sense of peace with regards to your own personal sense of difference?
BA: I made peace with that a long time ago. My identity muscles had to become huge when I was 12 years old! I dealt with all of that on a tune called “Forrest Whitaker.” Me being albino along with having a lot of self discipline is what has made me a good rapper — it really gave me a lot to talk about.
DC: Talk to me about how you got hooked up with Rhymesayers. Was Slug a major influence on getting you on the label?
BA: HA! Slug was actually the last person to embrace me! Rhymesayers is a collective of artists and business people. They found me and brought me to the label. When I did meet him I was gonna be put on tour with him. I told him I needed to know if he was cool with all of this, if he was cool with me being on the label. He just said yeah and then blew me off. Looking back, I understand the reaction. He and other folks had put a lot of time and money into other artists on the label only to see them just blow Rhymesayers off — I understood what was going on. I cut my first disc, we went on tour and we became family. Slug has been generous with his support and guidance.
DC: What is the hip-hop scene in Minnesota like?
BA: There is a strong supportive scene there. To be honest I think a lot of the camaraderie is built around the suffering that goes down in the winter! I mean we get nine months of winter! We are isolated and alone when it comes to that and it is no joke! That kind of experience brings about a certain type of bonding and camaraderie.
DC: You are a devout Muslim and you talk about your faith in your music. In a post 9/11 America is it tough to be an American Muslim?
BA: A lot of my views are framed by my faith — I know that there is a negative perception of Muslims in this country. In my mind what needs to happen is instead of crying about what people believe about Muslims, what we need to do is improve the concept and reality of what Islam is. The tenants of Islam that I follow are not the ones that get broadcast to the public. It’s the more radical views that are written about in the press. We as Muslims need to do a better job of showing the US and the world what true Islamic faith is all about.
DC: In hip-hop there seems to be different camps that have been created. You have the bling camp, the gangsta camp, old school, the more street political camp and then the Rhymesayers are an entity to themselves. Can there be any type of hip-hop unity?
BA: Well, at Rhymesayers, we are traditional hip-hop. The hip-hop we all loved and listened to was ALL underground when we were coming up and there were many different flavors to it from gangsta, to party rap to the Black Power stuff, but it was all underground and all hip-hop. I think you will see a lot more unity in the near future. What has separated us has been the business not the music. The business aspect of the music has had a very narrow scope but that is changing. I mean, me personally, I don’t see all these different camps. I love the latest Jay-Z disc and I loved the latest disc by MURS. I have toured with Brand Nubian, Ghostface Killiah and Rakim twice. It’s all just hip-hop to me.
DC: I always enjoy asking hip-hop artists how they feel about the current state of affairs with hip-hop. What do you think of the genre in its current state?
BA: I think it’s great! You have a lot of different groups, artists — you have a ton of different people expressing themselves! Even the mainstream is moving forward. The leaders in the mainstream are making creative music. I would like to see more unity but its coming. It’s fashionable for some hip-hop artists to criticize hip-hop. I never do. I never talk about what’s wrong with hip-hop — I never talk about what’s wrong. I just try to do what’s right.