There is no truth about rap. No champion, no star, no underdog. No king. Enter Brother Ali, a champion in his mind, in his heart and in his voice. Ali reaches his listeners with anti-popular rap statements (â€œYouâ€™re a follower/ I donâ€™t kiss ass or suck dick/ Iâ€™m not popularâ€¦Got you a chain and decide to grow nuts/ that shit is Golden Girls/ that ainâ€™t golden glovesâ€¦I live, I die, I laugh so that I donâ€™t cryâ€) that demand respect and command attention through vivid accounts of personal experience, either positive or negative. Ali holds no bars. Ali is free.
Freedom from accessible characteristics used by predictable, one-dimensional writers that anchor Aliâ€™s career to his faith, pigmentation and pupil color (â€œThe fact that [journalists] looked at a white haired red eyed dude named Ali and figured out that heâ€™s a Muslim and albino isnâ€™t going to win [journalists] a Pulitzer Prize,â€ says Ali) in their editorials, is a freedom Ali has to find â€“ â€œThat albino shit might get me a ten minute listen, but if Iâ€™m on my game [listeners] should forget all those surface detailsâ€
Aliâ€™s sophomore album is titled, The Undisputed Truth, and its title is not a lethargic attempt to crown Ali as rapâ€™s undisputed champ; The Undisputed Truth is raw truth. Its realness is undeniable. No champion, no star, no underdog; Brother Ali, a truth teller.
â€œGrowing up looking like I do, I had to either build my esteem within myself or jump in front of a bus.â€
Format: Please describe the process in creating your sophomore album, The Undisputed Truth.
Brother Ali: Me and Ant made this album at his house whenever both of us were off the road. He used to pick me up at midnight when he knew my son was sleeping and weâ€™d work until about 6 a.m. when I would get him up for school. I wrote and recorded most of the songs right there in his basement. When we had the blueprint of the songs we needed, we went into the studio and recorded the actual album.
Format: Was there an element of pressure to live up to industry expectations?
Brother Ali: The industry is never on my mind when Iâ€™m making my music. Iâ€™m never thinking about how to make a hit in the industry sense or what the critics will say about my shit. At the end of the day, me and Ant have to feel good about what we make. Weâ€™re the ones who have to live with the body of music weâ€™re making. We put a great deal of pressure on ourselves. I do care about the actual people who listen and support what weâ€™re doing. I put my heart and my life in this shit and those few people who really connect with what Iâ€™m saying â€“ I want to give them the most real shit possible.
Format: Please describe your working relationship with Rhymesayers Entertainment.
Brother Ali: The main people at Rhymesayers are like family to me. They put me in business and have supported me in every possible way. They donâ€™t bullshit me. Theyâ€™re creative. They work as hard as their artists if not harder. I owe them a lot and I thank God for our label.
â€œI just happen to feel more at home with MF than I do with a three syllable word. Does that make Will Smith smarter then me; probably.â€
Format: Who from Rhymesayers picked up on your skills?
Brother Ali: Musab, formerly Beyond, was the first one to bring me to Antâ€™s house and make music with me. Me and Ant hit it off very well. It was really the president of Rhymesayers, though, Siddiq, who invited me to join the team and encouraged me to work more closely with Ant and Slug. Siddiq, Ant and Slug are the founders who really head the company and they all worked together to make sure I had what I needed to do my thing. Theyâ€™ve shared all of their opportunities with me.
Format: Youâ€™ve toured with rap greats like Rakim, is there a feeling of pressure when stepping on stage with, before or after a Rakim-type rapper?
Brother Ali: It was incredible to be on tour with someone you grew up idolizing. I started doing this in the mid-80s when MCs were like prophets to us. I look at myself as being a small extension of Rakim and KRS-One, and those guys. When I go on a stage, no matter whoâ€™s on the bill or in the audience, Iâ€™m thinking about the legacy of music and culture that Iâ€™m blessed to be a part of. So having Ra tell me â€˜Go get â€˜em, baby boy!â€™ before I go on stage is crazy for a cat like me.
Format: Please describe your touring experiences, the positives and negatives.
Brother Ali: Being in front of people and doing my thing and interacting with the crowd and my DJ is the most intense thing Iâ€™ve ever done. Iâ€™ve been performing the entire time Iâ€™ve been involved in hip-hop. I started out breaking and wanting to show and prove in front of my classmates and the older kids and the girls. I started rhyming at the school dances and it was the same thing. Going on tour is just the grown up extension of what Iâ€™ve always loved doing.
Format: Please compare the clubs and venues in Europe or Japan vs. North America.
Brother Ali: Overseas, everybody from the promoters to the club employees to even the fans treat artists of every kind with more respect. They respect your art and your privacy and they go out of their way to make sure youâ€™re taken care of. Those people actually apologize for not speaking your language and shit. Itâ€™s humbling.
â€œhaving Ra tell me â€˜Go get â€˜em, baby boy!â€™ before I go on stage is crazy for a cat like me.â€
Format: As a rapper from Minnesota, do you feel the media pigeonholes rap to three fronts; East, West and South?
Brother Ali: Everybody segregates music into categories and thatâ€™s whatâ€™s wrong with music in general now. Hip-hop is supposed to only touch certain topics and a small limited set of experiences. Within that we separate underground from mainstream, conscious rap from gangster rap, all this bullshit. It keeps artists and fans in cages in terms of the fullness of their identity. People describe themselves by what category they happen to be in and limit their personality to just that one set of thought. Music is either real or itâ€™s a game. Itâ€™s either important or itâ€™s forgettable. Itâ€™s either strong or weak. All that other shit only makes you miss out on the good shit from other categories.
Format: Why should the media and readers pay more attention to Midwestern rap?
Brother Ali: I think that because weâ€™re so separated from the big cities like New York and L.A. which have their own identities as cities, weâ€™re forced to develop our own individual personalities more. New York and L.A. can take the place of a personality in some people. Your talk, dress and demeanour can just be the norm for your city if youâ€™re a bland person from a place like that. The city can overtake you and become who you are. Not true in the Midwest. You look at all of the prominent MCs form the Midwest, Kanye West, Slug, Common, Eminem all the way down the line. What do you hear as a common denominator; these men are examining themselves as human beings. Thereâ€™s a lot of introspection that needs to happen here if youâ€™re going to be somebody. You donâ€™t have your townâ€™s personality to lean on as a crutch.
Format: Please describe your local hip-hop community.
Brother Ali: Very supportive. People in the Twin Cities take a lot of pride in their home grown music. Our big Clear Channel station in Minneapolis has a nightly new music challenge where they take two new joints and play them back to back, and the audience calls to vote for a winner. For the first time they put my new single â€œTruth Isâ€ up against an Akon song with Fat Joe and got more calls then theyâ€™ve ever received in the history of the show. Our song kept winning every night against Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado and Ne-yo, etcetera. People here are serious about their local music. Itâ€™s a tradition that goes back to Prince and Morris Day.
Format: Between your debut album and your sophomore album, The Undisputed Truth, you fell out of love and divorced, however, you found new love, too. How does an emotion unstable as love affect your music?
Brother Ali: Unstable emotions are the best ones to effect songs because they change and evolve so much with time. If you base your music in your passions, youâ€™ll never be uninspired.
â€œPeople describe themselves by what category they happen to be in and limit their personality to just that one set of thought. Music is either real or itâ€™s a game.â€
Format: As a rapper, is it hard to keep your private, at home life outside of your music?
Brother Ali: I have a bad habit of telling all my business in my music. Itâ€™s the only way I know how to make the realest shit possible. When Iâ€™m in the zone I canâ€™t think about the effects of what Iâ€™m saying or Iâ€™ll start to censor myself. Whatever comes up, comes out. Ant has to pull me aside from time to time and say, â€˜Yo I donâ€™t know if you should be saying this much, man. Are you sure you donâ€™t care if people hear all of that?â€™ Only once have I taken out some personal information about my son. Itâ€™s not his fault his daddy got a big mouth.
Format: How do the people you either love or no longer have love for, feel about you including them in your music?
Brother Ali: My ex wife hasnâ€™t heard the song about her. Sheâ€™ll probably hear it because her mom and I are close and sheâ€™s really proud of my music. She buys my CDâ€™s from the store even though Iâ€™d give them to her. Sheâ€™s gonna get this album and I know sheâ€™ll tell my ex about â€œWalkinâ€™ Away.â€ I have a restraining order against her though so sheâ€™s gonna have to deal with it on her own.
Format: Members of the media label you as an albino, Muslim rapper, please explain how you feel about being labelled and if that label is correct.
Brother Ali: Iâ€™m an MC â€“ one of the best of my generation. The fact that Iâ€™m albino and Muslim are secondary. I accept it though as the way people think. I canâ€™t waste my time telling people how to explain me. I also know that my being an albino put my in a unique position to make me what I am today â€“ the fact that my pride and self-image come from within. A lot of people havenâ€™t learned that. Growing up looking like I do, I had to either build my esteem within myself or jump in front of a bus.
Format: What are members of the media missing when they blatantly label you?
Brother Ali: Iâ€™m doing my job to the best of my ability. Iâ€™m trying to approach things a new way. Iâ€™m trying to put a new spin on things, most of the time, anyway. [Journalists] should do the same. The fact that [journalists] looked at a white haired red eyed dude named Ali and figured out that heâ€™s a Muslim and Albino isnâ€™t going to win [journalists] a Pulitzer Prize.
â€œWhat do you hear as a common denominator; these men are examining themselves as human beings. Thereâ€™s a lot of introspection that needs to happen here if youâ€™re going to be somebody. You donâ€™t have your townâ€™s personality to lean on as a crutch.â€
Format: Does this label effect your career positively or negatively?
Brother Ali: There may have been some people who were turned on to me or interest was peaked, because of my skin or my spirituality, initially. But when they put that CD in the music is either going to grab and hold them or itâ€™s not. That albino shit might get me a ten minute listen, but if Iâ€™m on my game [listeners] should forget all those surface details five minutes in and just hear my passion for what Iâ€™m saying and doing.
Format: As a rapper, a labelled Muslim rapper, do you feel a responsibility to your fans, religion and label?
Brother Ali: As an MC my responsibility is to not waste my listenersâ€™ time. To give back to hip-hop even a fraction of what itâ€™s given me. My responsibility as an artist is to make the best art that I can. Iâ€™m not here to convert you to Al Islam. Iâ€™m here to share the beautiful things I see with you.
Format: For a Muslim you swear a lot, how does that effect your spiritual side?
Brother Ali: Russell Simmons said, â€˜Iâ€™m more concerned with cussed ideas and less concerned about cured words.â€™ I really feel like itâ€™s the concept that youâ€™re conveying thatâ€™s important. You have to use the best tools in your arsenal to get your message across. I just happen to feel more at home with MF than I do with a three syllable word. Does that make Will Smith smarter then me; probably.
â€œFor the first time they put my new single â€œTruth Isâ€ up against an Akon song with Fat Joe and got more calls then theyâ€™ve ever received in the history of the show.â€
Format: Are you a role model, do you want to be one?
Brother Ali: In some ways I am. I think if thereâ€™s something I can leave behind me itâ€™s be true to what you are and do what your soul tells you is right. In other ways Iâ€™m not at all. I struggle with a lot of things but I think people say donâ€™t call me a role model just to duck the responsibility that everyone naturally has to each other. Every one is a role model in some sense. Itâ€™s not arrogant to say yeah people are watching me and the way I carry myself through this life affects other peopleâ€™s view of the world.
Format: What are your thoughts on MP3 bootlegging?
Brother Ali: Iâ€™ve never had a problem with people downloading my music. Itâ€™s like someone tasting a meal before they order it. It really only hurts the people whoâ€™s shit looks good a first but actually sucks. If people download your album and it has an impact on them, youâ€™ve made the connection. If itâ€™s not their bag, they move on to whatever does it for them. Musicians need to really let it sink in that our overall success depends on whether or not we make records that feed something in the listener. If theyâ€™re not getting what they need from you, theyâ€™re going to keep looking. Stop blaming your label and the Internet and all this for your position in life. Our publicist stressed to us that if we wanted to get a good press push for my new album that we had to get it to the writers three months in advance. We did exactly that and the album leaked the very next day â€“ainâ€™t that a bitch! Like I said, I donâ€™t mind downloading but not three months in advance. So now Iâ€™m being tested to see if I really believe in my theory. I believe it. Letâ€™s see what happens.