Music Feature: Brother Ali's outside visions are internal struggles, and the outspoken hip-hop artist wants that to change

Music Feature: Brother Ali's outside visions are internal struggles, and the outspoken hip-hop artist wants that to change

MusicSeptember 09, 2014

Cover photo provided by the artist. Body photo by Adam Stanzek. Words by Brian Frederick.

What the people of earth need now is a whole lot of compassion. They need a deeper understanding of one another to break free of all social obstacles in our current dilemma of suck. Revolutionaries in the arts strive to be the motivation behind that change, and hip-hop, it would seem, is the leading carriage on which it rides.

Outspoken Rhymesayers MC and political activist Brother Ali uses his conscious rhymes as a social stimulant, and with each controversial release he pushes dusty buttons that normally go unscathed. He says that where he grew up, the Midwest, is not at all what positive stereotypes lead anyone to believe and its old-school thinking would develop a call to action in his formative years.

“The racial tension in the Midwest is really, really strong,” says Ali. “I’ve really realized how polarizing it is because of the fact that the Midwest has this veneer of politeness where it’s really considered a virtue to be polite at all costs. What that does, is it really maintains the status quo, and anybody who’s not satisfied with the status quo – when you raise issues that aren’t considered polite – it’s really considered bad taste and bad judgment and a lack of respect to raise issues that the dominant majority group doesn’t see as being a problem.“

Ali says his experiences and perceptions growing up as a social minority with albinism played a pivotal role in building his attitudes and sensitivities to racial injustice. Growing up around neighborhoods he considers being some of this country’s worst, Ali says the acclaimed manners of the Midwest play a large role in its segregative ways.

“Now, I’ve actually lived in different parts of the country for periods of time and just seeing the difference in the way that it is, I think it’s the most racially oppressive part of our country,” says Ali. “I think it’s worse than the south; (It’s) definitely worse than the east or west coast.”

Being an outcast in one sect of society can be the catalyst needed to fit into another, Ali says. He credits the hip-hop community, and by association the black community, for welcoming him without question and helping him feel most at home.

“I got involved in hip-hop and the culture of hip-hop because my entire life system was all black as a kid,” says Ali. “It was the community that raised me. That was the late 80s and early 90s, and I really saw hip-hop as black people’s expression – which it is – but then also as a voice for a new generation of revolutionaries. To me it kind of felt natural. It was natural for me to feel like it’s the person that I am, and it’s the culture that I’ve been raised in.”

When he spits his rhythmic voice into the structure of song, it’s a force of eye-opening power. It treads on content few stars in hip-hop approach to this day with a throwback style to rap of old. He utilizes art as a catalyst for public reform and an incentive to stimulate action into world issues. Putting it all out on the table, Ali says, is necessary so he can reach as many closed-off fans as possible.

“I always think that I’m putting it all out there,” says Ali. “When people are sleepwalking and you’re connected to them and they’re coming to you smiling and appreciating what you do, you really want to jog their consciousness and wake them up in a way that doesn’t completely turn them away. But the denial is so deep and the sleepwalking is so intense that I haven’t felt very successful at it to be honest.

“My last album, I felt like I put all these messages in my music and I thought that it was there for people who were open to it, but one of the main functions of privilege is that you don’t have to care about certain things. That’s really the easiest definition, any struggle that you don’t have to care about, don’t have to know about, don’t have to think about. It’s a choice for you to either think about it or not think about it, and that’s privilege. I feel like the people who needed to hear it the most are the people who ignore it, they just don’t have to hear it so they just don’t hear what they don’t like.”

Relevant action is a struggle for Brother Ali and one he says he works tirelessly trying to perfect. He also acknowledges nothing changes without a populous uprising. Whether it’s the dying state of the current music industry, perverse social injustices or chaotic world issues, Ali says that there’s one definitive way to fix the failing structures.

“If (we) cared yeah,” Says Ali. “That’s the answer to every problem in the world. Yes if we cared, we could fix it. There are people working on that.”

For Brother Ali, inner change is also a necessity he battles daily. He often steps away from the world at hand, social media and all, to work on himself as a positive influence so he may revisit the stage with a growth in his heart and accompanying material. He says his next album will come after his current growth period and will most likely be one that reflects a more positive change in himself as a human being.

“A lot of the last year has been about studying,” says Ali. “If the world isn’t right it’s because my soul isn’t right, and my heart isn’t right. Self-purification and cultivation of our own hearts is really key to responding to the ugliness in the world. This ugliness in the world exists partially because of the ugliness in me. If there’s disorder in the world, if there’s injustice in the world, a lot of that is related to the disorder and injustice in me.“

09/16 Colorado Springs @ The Black Sheep
09/18 Boulder @ The Fox Theatre
09/19 Ft. Collins @ The Aggie