Brother Ali (2006)
Nachdem wir Brother Ali im September 2004 bereits via Telefon ausquetschen konnten, kam es nun im Rahmen der Rhymesayers-Europatour zu einem weiteren Gespräch – Stef Gotcheva traf Ali in Berlin. Man plauderte über HipHop Liveshows, Rap und Gewalt, das angekündigte Album “The Undisputed Truth”, den amerikanischen Umgang mit historischer Schuld und – gesunde Ernährung. Ein echter Rundumschlag, im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes. Ali nahm’s gelassen: “I am what I am, doctor you ain’t gotta love me!”
Fotos: Lost Citzen
Hello Brother Ali. You have just performed on stage. How do you feel?
It´s our second show today. It was good.. I had a really good time. It´s my first time in Germany. Tonight was a lot of fun. Sadat X is my friend. We have toured together before.
Which track or artist captured you for life?
One of the first ones was “Roxanne Roxanne” by UTFO. Everything Melle Mel did, Slick Rick, Whodini. Later on Run DMC, even later than that the one that really has always inspired me when I started writing songs till now is KRS One.
Did you see him live?
Yeah, I have seen him a few times, and I met him a few times. Actually when I was a kid, when I was about 13 years old, he was doing lectures in university. He came and gave a lecture. He was with this guy Nelson George. He put a book out. And I bought the book, took it and asked him to sign it. And he brought me on stage with him and talk to me on the stage. That was probably the biggest day of my young life, that was the biggest thing that ever happened to me when I was a little kid.
Do you have bad memories from shows that you´ve been on in the past?
Yeah, I was at the Ice Cube show in ´91 or ´92. It was a lot of violence and some shootings. When I was about 13 I snook into a 2 Live Crew show, and there was bad stuff that happened at that show. I live in the Midwest, which is not like New York and it´s not like L.A. There is not a whole lot of opportunities for the people from the ghetto and the midwest to all to be together. People are more spread out. When Ice Cube is coming to town, everybody from the ghetto was at that show. If people have problems with each other because of something that happened before but they never see each other because there are so spread out and they are not concentrate and see each other on the show, that´s when it goes down.
I don´t think that Hip Hop should be accociated only with violence. Todays show was all about the love for the art, like it should be…
The reason why you had a lot of that is because Hip Hop is the street. The things that happen in the streets they happen in Hip Hop. You can´t just say only the Hip Hop is not violent, because Hip Hop is gonna be violent from time to time. If we don´t want it to be violent, and what we are really saying is, we don´t want people in the streets to be violent. Hip Hop is life, and life is fucked up and bad sometimes. It´s supposed to be a chance for people with a bad life to come and express themselves, and be together and have a good time.
I think that the covers from the Champion EP and the “Shadows On The Sun” album are truly a very special art. Do you think that this is a chance for people not knowing you, to check out your music?
I hope so. Whatever they like. I try to make everything about what I do as good as it can be. If they only like one of those things than that´s fine. The artist name is George Thomson. He is a graffiti writer from the Midwest. He does a lot of stuff. He did the “Shadows on the sun”, he did the “Champion” EP and he did the cover for my 12 inch single, too.
I know that “Rites of Passage” is not considered as an album. You made everything by yourself, but at first the tracks came out as a cassette. What is the story behind this collection of lyrics?
Brother Ali : Basically my whole time that I´ve been rapping I was rapping live all the time, at partys, at school, in groups. I was always performing for people. I never really recorded this things. In Minneapolis I met the Rhymesayers. I saw that they made their own CDs and I was like “I can do that”. I performed a lot and people started asking about my music, about an upcoming album. I don´t know why it´s not an official album. So basically I made the beats for all the songs that I was performing. Ant encouraged me to make my own beats and to make my whole project.
What is the best part working with Ant?
He is amazing and he is my best friend, that helps, too. He works mainly with me and Slug, because we are all very close. And we just bring the best out of each other. We have a lot of respect for each other. He knows me very well, he knows where my head is at. He is able to give me music that´s gonna help me bring out the best things of me. I think that the most people called themselves producers in Hip Hop are not producers, they are not making anything, they are just making a beat. They have nothing to do with the rest of it. They don´t care and just give you the beat. A lot of them e-mail each other the beat. If they have a good bond and they have a vision, then it can works.
I am just wondering, who got the idea for the track “Forrest Whitiker”? This is the most optimistic track I´ve ever heard, cause no matter the odds man should be in peace with himself.
It was easy making this track. Actually Ant was trying to play me a different beat after “Shadows on the sun” was done. He had the beat on the computer, he put it in and loaded it up. It was the wrong thing and he thought he wasn´t done with that. But I knew exactly what to do with that beat. I heard that music and it just make me write that song. I wrote it in about an hour. Not even an hour, I probably wrote it in a half an hour.
Are your rhymes pre-written or just off the top of your head when you hear the music?
Most of the time I hear the music and write the lyrics. A lot of the times when I hear the music I take it home and I write with a pen and paper. Other times when I am just walking, or ride the bus and sometimes in my head I make up songs. So those I come home and write them down or just memorize them and just try to found music that fits.
Did the fact that you have a little boy changed your view towards making music? Maybe you wanted to be a role model to him?
No, I don´t think that the fact changed my lyrics. When I first made my first thing “Rites of Passage” I was looking that there was a lot of young muslims like me. I didn´t feel like there is anybody really representing muslims well. I knew that this people liked Hip Hop, but it was hard for a lot of them to listen to Hip Hop. I tried to keep in mind. I wanted to be somebody that muslims can attach to. I am not just a muslim. Although being a muslim applies and covers everything in my life. For me just to try to be a muslim rapper was as bad as anybody else was just trying to be a political rapper, or just trying to be an emotional rapper, or just trying to be a dance-club rapper. That´s a bad thing to try to do. You should just be yourself. Investigate and explore all the different parts of who you are and put it all out there. I kind of started to get on my own and being with Ant helped me a lot. He really helped me to be myself.
When is your new album named “The Undisputed Truth” coming out?
In august. When I distributed my other albums I didn´t had anybody who helped us. With this one we do have some distribution. It´s still not big, but we do have some distribution. Working with this company we are trying to plan it. The people who I have working on my promotion, marketing and radio I want to give them enough time to really try to do their job. I´ve never had good radio push. I really in my heart believe that there are people who might like my music who never heard it and they don´t know how to hear it. I might sell less with the new one, but you never know. Anything can happen.
Tell us more about the upcoming album.
Well, the album is pretty much done. It´s a very personal album. I am still doing me. When I talk about a subject or topic, I talk about the way I feel about it and how effects me personal. I talk about some things that people might think that are political on this new album.
Are the lyrics in some topics meant to be political?
I don´t think they are political. It wasn´t meant to turn that way. But in America, the shit is in your face more than ever right now. Most of americans don´t read very much history, they don´t know geography, they don´t know passports, they don´t travel outside the United States, they don´t know the real history of slavery. We don´t know how terrible this is. There were a few people that were evil, that really made slavery happen, there were a few people against it. We´re supposed to be patriotical. We went to one of the main concentration camps in Munich the other day before our show and it´s almost like there is a healing process here in Germany with that whole issue, because the people were honest about what happened. The difference with Germany that I´ve seen is that in Germany the people acknowledge it and they say it for what it is, they are able to separate it from it, like “That´s not Germany, that´s Hitler and his friends who did that-it wasn´t all of us”. In America they don´t talk about slavery at all. If you talk about slavery now in a political talk, people are just like “Oh, that was so long ago.” And it wasn´t! It was two generations ago. The thing is, that on a different level the slavery is still a going on in the United States. I really think that americans as a whole are very ignorant people.
Have you ever thought of moving away from there, maybe to Germany like Grand Agent or Fat Jon?
I don´t want to move to Germany, ´cause I hate the food. It´s disgusting. I love the people, everybody that I met was so cool. When I go to France – I love the food, when I go to Sweden – I love the food, but there is something about the food here that´s not ok. I got really sick this morning. I love chicken, I eat chicken everyday but I was scared about birdflew. I was worried about eating chicken. So I started to eat some vegetarian dishes, and then I had really bad headache, we went to our hotel and I threw up so hard. And then I felt better. I went to the other store and bought me some cheeseburger. Normally at home I wouldn´t eat cheeseburger, I would eat chicken or fish. But it was familiar.
I thought that eating hamburgers every day is the most normal thing in the United States…
Yeah, it´s horrible. There is a movie called “Supersize Me”. It´s a documentary about the fast food industry. And there´s a man who is really healthy, he is a vegetarian and he decides to eat only fast food for a month. And his organs and his body starts falling apart, his liver started leaking shit, he couldn´t have sex like he did before. It´s too much sugar, too much salt, too much fat, too much chemicals. If you want to eat organic food, just normal natural food it´s really expensive. It´s very expensive to get beans that don´t have much of chemicals, or real chicken. So poor people can´t buy this healthy food. It´s all a circle. The way that people loose weight is not like getting a bicycle or walk to work, it´s not start playing football. It´s just follow this diat for 6 months, loose your twenty pounds and you go right back to what you were doing before. It´s really bad life.
Do you think that new artists that are hot right now have the chance to really make a career – because I think that nobody really cares about the characters or visions of this mostly young “stars”…
You´re right. The music industry doesn’t develop artists and make careers. The music business wants to make somebody hot, and wants to make as much money as possible and gets the next person who is hot. I think Ludacris is really good. I thought Jay-Z was amazing. I love Jay-Z! I loved him in his whole career. The thing is, you can´t just listen to the songs that are on the radio, you´re right!
What´s been in your CD-player lately?
I listen to this great guy named I Self Devine. He is really big to me. I am not really sure why people don´t love him more than I do. The people who really know about him, love him to death! I don´t know why he is not more popular than he is. I like MF Doom a lot. I like Aesop Rock. I listen to a lot of older music. I like Ghostface. I like Common. He is amazing. I´ve seen him about 4 or 5 times. I am truly impressed by him.
Is there any emcee or producer you would like to work with for the future?
The way that I started making music because of Ant it´s just a really personal thing. It has a lot to do with our relationship. It´s important music to me. All the music that we made, it really means something to me. That´s my life in those songs. And that´s my best friend and that´s his life in those songs. You can match that. I am sure I could make a really dope song or a really dope record with other people, but it´s not gonna mean the same thing to me. I am the one that has to come out here and perform this songs. And when I am performing something if I don´t believe in it, how is anybody else believing in it?
Can you make a living and pay all your bills only from your dedication to this art?
Yep. I am very happy grateful about it. I would like to be rich, so that I can do real things. I love what I do very very much. I am able to travel a lot. There are some people that really listen to my songs and that is a special thing to me. I get to do this things that I never wouldn´t have been able to do if it wasn´t for music. I am free. I am a lot more free than the average person cause I don´t have to do a regular job. I work harder than a person with a regular job. But it doesn´t even count. Even 100 dollars to me is not the same as 100 dollars to somebody with a job. Because he have to wear some clothes, which he didn´t want to wear, he has to work with people that he hates. Even if we both have the same 100 euro, my 100 euro to get that I hung out with my friends, I did what I love to do, I maybe didn´t sleep for a month, but still it´s by choice and it´s because I wanted to do it. It´s sad, ´cause I have to be away from my family and that hurts really bad.
Any last words for the Hip Hop lovers out there?
It would be nice if everybody knows what Hip Hop really is. There will be always people that will find it. And everybody should support it the way he feels about it. Don´t destroy it. Thank you very much.