Brother Ali (2004)
Could you please drop some words about yourself?
My name is Brother Ali. I’m a MC from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Part of the Rhymesayers crew. I’ve been involved in hip hop all of my life. I have an album called “Shadows On The Sun” and I’m doing what I do.
You said that you’re from Minneapolis, how was growing up there?
I actually moved around a lot when I grew up, my father had to go to a new city to get a new job, to get a new place to live and then he would stayed there for about a year, sometimes longer And several times when I was growing up he would switch his job and had to move to a new city. And actually I didn’t get to Minneapolis until I was 15. I already been in 3, 4 different cities in 2 different states before we moved to Minneapolis. Minneapolis is still home for me because that’s where I lived the longest time, for about 12 years.
Of course you speak of being an albino in 2 of your songs…
It’s kind of a touchy thing because a lot of the press that I got the first years was all setted about me being an Albino. I mean it’s a part of the music but it’s not all.
You said that the press is reducing you on being an Albino… what are your experiences?
They did when I first came out, I felt like being very dis-focusing on that and I think it’s because it’s such an easy thing to focus on that, it’s such an easy way to tie a story together and put a label on a story. But I think after the Champion EP came out they stopped doing that as much.
How did you hook up with Slug and the Rhymesayers Camp?
I basically been from the same city and doing the same thing. It was pretty likely that we would end up together. I was actually friend with the producer Ant and a guy named Siddiq, the president of the company. I knew him and I was really inspired by the independent way that they were making and selling their music so I wanted to do the same thing. I didn’t think that they needed anybody else in their group so I was trying to do that on my own and I made a completely self-produced homemade project and I brought it to them just to get some advices, I was gonna put it out on myself. That’s where we started talking about me joining them. That was in 99, the project came out in 2000.
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard of you?
It’s definitely rooted and straight forward Hip Hop, it has a lot of influences from old school Hip Hop, very soulful and powerful music. I think it’s very personal. We try to make it well rounded like it’s not just one. You know, some people have angry music and everything they do is angry, and some people make emotional music but it’s all sad. I try to really hit anything that a human being feels or experiences or goes through. We try to make it very broad and very diverse.
You kinda came out of nowhere, how did your life has changed after the success of “Shadows On The Sun”?
I don’t work a job, but I probably work three times harder now. It’s very demanding all my time. I’m extremely busy. I make a lot of sacrifices concerning my time with my family. I’m going from home a lot, I be on tour, travel, perform. And then when I am home I always working on something whether making new music or rehearsing or working on business things. I’m always kinda working and struggling. I’m doing just a little bit better than what I used to do. Not my whole life but I’m doing a little bit better. I have no complain for it though…
I think you know best what’s going on on each song on “Shadows On The Sun” – just drop some short comments, anecdotes, additional thoughts or memories about the studio sessions etc. on the following titles…
Picket Fence was a song that I couldn’t call the album finished until I made it. It’s basically a song about my feelings when I was struggling my whole life and feeling always on the defense my whole life. Having a period of time when I let my God depart. I’m allowed myself to believe that all that was over and that I wouldn’t have to fight anymore just kind of getting get part into realising that I still had to help my God.
That’s a song I wrote in about 10 minutes. Basically my album was already done and we were going into the studio to record it and Ant tried to find some music for all the other songs an he put the wrong disc in the keyboard and loaded that music. That was a beat that he just made for fun. I started writing it and we made that song in about half an hour time.
Dorian is a true story. Basically about getting involved in something and not really realising the entire scope of what was happening.
Victory is kinda like a book end. It’s kind of the message of the album which is that human beings shine the most when they are in extreme difficulty. That brings out the best or the worst of people. And the majority of people, it brings out the best in them. I don’t believe that human beings are bad by nature or sinful or evil. I believe that human being are excellent by nature. And sometimes it takes those type of things to really strengthen a person and to purify them. Something that I learned from Islam is that when you are making steel they burn it in an extremely hot fire and that raises all the interiors up to the top. And when you work hard you can clean the interiors out of you, purifying and strengthen it by getting all the interiors out of the mixture and so in life alot of times it’s the same way that you feel like you’re in hell, you know it feels extremely difficult but the reality is that that’s God’s way of helping you strengthen yourself and purify yourself.
But when people are excellent: what do you think where does evil come from?
Human beings are created to be good but the thing that makes human beings special is that we have the possibility to be evil. If we couldn’t be evil than there’s nothing too special about us being good. In Islam human beings are above angels because angels only do good. They’re like robots. If we couldn’t be terrible, if there couldn’t be Jeffrey Dahmer, if there couldn’t be Hitler, then there couldn’t be Jesus.
What did you mean with the title of your album “Shadows On The Sun”? How did you come up with that?
It’s kinda what I just mentioned with the Victory thing, that a human being can outshine everything. A human being can shine to the point that they can put shadows on the sun. And then also for me it’s a personal thing just because of being an albino and the sun is always my nemesis in a way. Our eyes and skin and everything is just weary… Most of the world’s albinos live in Africa and a lot of them die before they 4 years old of skin cancer just because the sun is doing damaging to us.
Over here, The Champions EP isn’t as well known as “Shadows On The Sun” yet, I would like you to make some advertising for the one’s who don’t know the EP. What’s different on this one?
We were gonna put out a second single /12″ for Shadows On The Sun and we wanted to have some new songs to put 1 song from the album and then 2 new songs. When I got back from tour we started making new songs and then we said: make it 10! So instead of doing the second single we get a remix of Champion and then we have those new songs. Those were songs that probably most of them wouldn’t be on an album. Rainwater, Sleepwalker will be on the new album. It’s gonna be another year before our new album comes out and we want to give people something new to have, an additional piece of work. It’s kinda like an extension of Shadows On The Sun.
What’s so fascinating about Muhammad Ali? Do you got something in common with him?
He’s been a hero for almost all of my life. Not only because he’s the greatest and what he has done is actual art but also him as a human being. The way that he used his art to actually change and touch people wide. Not only was he just the best boxer, a lot of people are great boxers, Sugar Ray Leonard was a tremendous boxer, but he didn’t change anybody’s life. So not only do I wanna be the best of what I do but I want to be bigger than just that. I don’t mean that I want people to look at me the way that they look at Muhammad Ali but I wanna be that kind of person.
Imagine if there was a battle between you and Ali. You would fight with words, and he would use his fists? Who would win?
Well he could fight with words too (laughs). I don’t know if you ever heard him speak but he used to rap. When he was walking into a room and they had a press conference he would be like “I’m the greatest in the world. Just last week I beat up the break, I’m so bad I make medicine sick”, you know what I mean? He would talk in lines, that was another big part of what he did. I think he would win because I wouldn’t know a bad thing to say about him.
You told me that you’ve written many personal songs… which one has been the most difficult to write down?
I would say between Picket Fences and Rain Water on the EP. Well when you have something like a amour, I have a girlfriend that I love very much, and I can never write how I met her, how I feel about her because certain things are too big that when you try to write ‘em they never do justice to how you really feel about it. So those are songs that I feel more that I would be able to put into those songs. That’s the struggle I used to have… If you got to make a piece of work about something that means so much to you that it’s worthy of what you’re saying or worthy of what you’re feeling.
You spoke about your new album, coming in about one year. What’s up with that? Are you already in the studio?
Me and Ant just make our albums, we create the material at his house before we go to the studio. We have a few songs which is really just getting started. I don’t have a title. I had a title, but there’s a show on a popular music station called BET, and they stole the title for my album and made a TV show out of the title. So I can’t use it now.
You seem to be a very religious person. Have you converted to Islam or were you born a Muslim? What does this creed give to you?
I converted. I was raised in a church. My family was not religious at all but my mother thought that it was a good thing to have kids go to church, so I went to church until I was 14 and at the end of the class that you had taken you would either join the church as an adult in a church or not. So at the end of it I didn’t want to join the church but my mother had all of our relatives called from outta town and made a big deal out of it. So she kind of pressured me doing it and actually my girlfriend read me a story about Langston Hughes where he had similar experience. So I join the church and then right after that like kinda the deal that we made was, she said if you just at least do this and go to this party and everything, then you can do whatever you want after that, you’re free, you don’t have to go to my church, you can go to any church you want to, you can do whatever you want. And so I started studying the Islam. I knew what I believed in, and I knew what I felt, I knew the basics anyway. The more I read the Koran, the more I realised that that was just what I already was, that I didn’t have to try to stretch and bend myself into something. I was a Muslim. I was born to be a Muslim.
You seem to be on tour all the time and to really enjoy being on stage. Do you have any special experiences or impressions you would like to share with us?
I went to Europe one time, to a festival in Sweden. That was a really great experience because some people of our label like Eyedea & Abilities and also Slug has distribution companies that promote their records there. And I don’t have that. So I didn’t know if anybody would know who I was and they asked me to headline, I played last on the stage where I was at. I didn’t know if that would be a good idea, but there was probably a thousand people there that watched and knew the words and ask me specifically to do certain songs. It was really, really good.
I read that you’ll be here in Germany very soon for some shows… what are your expectations?
When my new album comes out I’ll definitely be over there, we’ll make a Rhymesayers European tour. That’s what I want to do. Me, Eyedea & Abilities and Atmosphere. I don’t know much about Europe. All of my friends have been to Europe, in terms of my rapper friends. Some of them really love it, some of them don’t. Most of us really like the shows, a lot of people don’t like the travelling. But they say that the shows are good. I don’t care too much about the conditions of the travelling and all that. If the shows are good I’m happy. When the people show that they’re happy and they accept what we doing, I’m happy.