Brother Ali Previews

posted Tuesday September 08 ,2009 at 08:23AM CDT | 5 comments

Brother Ali Previews

Exclusive: Ali explains the apolitical focus on Us, including songs about living comfortable, haters, and Joell Ortiz

Following the first part of HipHopDX’s exclusive preview of Brother Ali’s forthcoming full-length, Us (due September 22nd), that focused on the narrative-driven half of the Rhymesayers rhymer’s new album [click to read], DX now presents the second installment of our dissection of Ali’s latest effort, in which the underground legend explains why he sidestepped any political speak on Us and reveals if Slaughterhouse spitter Joell Ortiz outshined him on their triple-team lyrical assault alongside Freeway.

While his last full-length, 2007’s 5-X rated The Undisputed Truth [click to read], boasted a political tinge on tracks like “Letter From The Government,” the author of “Uncle Sam Goddamn” [click to view] chose not to rage against the machine on his new album. Ali noted during his feature interview with DX earlier this year [click to read] that he is “…not a political rapper,” but fans were likely expecting a bit more political prose from the truth teller this time out.

This album was about doing something new for me,Ali explained to DX of the content shift heard on his storytelling-driven disc. “It was time for me to open my focus, not switch gears but just kinda open up my focus. And use my storytelling and the way that I write songs to embrace more than just myself, and to bring more than just me into it. So, me talking about politics wasn’t part of that this time. But, I will say that I also got to thinking about, ‘What do I really believe about politics?’ How do I define myself really? I’ve always said that I was a revolutionary, but what does that really mean? I’m not a Democrat, I don’t think. I’m definitely not a Republican. What do I really believe about politics? And, what I really believe is that in order for there to really be a change – in this country or in the world – all of the common people have to get together. And the only way that that’s gonna happen is if we’re more human, as we see each other as being ourselves. Men have to look at what women are going through and [say], ‘What if that was me?’ White folks have to look at black folks and say, ‘What if that was me? What would I do in that situation?’ Because it is you! Middle-class and poor people have to look at each other and see, ‘Well, maybe it’s not poor people’s fault that they’re poor.’ Poor people also need to learn that middle-class is just a fancier version of poor. So my thing [on Us] was to tell these stories [rooted in those social subjects]…hopefully in a way – And I’m saying, I’m not Kanye West, I don’t sell millions of records, I don’t have like the ear of every person in the world, but for the people that do listen to me I hope that they can see themselves in people that they [previously thought] were so alien to them.

So with less anger aimed at the powers that be this go-round would it be wrong to label this album a more subdued offering than his last - a less fiery and more content Ali like he seems to be showcasing over what’s become his signature soul-blues bounce backing on the album’s first single, “Fresh Air” [click to listen]?
 
No,” he replied when asked that very question. “What’s content about slavery [‘The Travelers,’ ‘Breakin’ Dawn’], rape [‘Babygirl’], homophobia [‘Tight Rope’]…? [‘Fresh Air’ is] basically that’s where my life is at now [after the personal struggles detailed on The Undisputed Truth]. I personally, me and my family, are doing [well]. And trust me brother, we are not rich. I want that to be known. I am not rich. I’m barely middle-class right now. But I never thought I’d ever be middle-class, so for me this is the most comfortable I’ve ever been. My bank account still hits zero [though]. Like when I go for a long time without a show, my bank account will hit zero. And I have two kids and a wife, and it gets real. Now, obviously I got it up to a point where I could buy a house and stuff like that. I’m doing way better than I’ve ever done, and I feel like I’m at a place where my life is comfortable. And my own personal situation is so great. But, I can’t escape the fact that everybody I love is still going through hell… I think that because I’m doing better [personally] that’s why I’m able to start looking outward [and addressing their experiences].”      

Thankfully, Ali lightens the heavier mood of the album somewhat via arguably the two best productions on Us, not coincidentally the album’s most uptempo selections. First on his chest-thumping personal anthem “The Preacher,” much like the electric-guitar guided opener to The Undisputed Truth, “Whatcha Got,” Ali utilizes his kick-off track for Us as the energetic apex of the album, robustly setting things off over triumphant horns, wailing electric-guitar and echoing scratches. But Ali truly reaches his rewind-worthy, shit-talking peak on the flow fest “Best@It.” The co-stars of “The Truth” [click to listen], Ali and Freeway, are joined by Joell Ortiz, who delivers a literally gut-busting verse including the laugh-out-loud line “I ain’t fat, this just how my belly floss.
 
Basically that song is on [this] album because I was like, ‘Okay, this is still a Rap album now.’ [Laughs] I’m like, ‘I’m glad that we’re talking about all this [social] stuff, but it’s still a Rap record,’” said Ali of the spittin’ showcase on Us. “So I was like let me get my two favorite flow-ist right now and [we’re] all just gonna go in. We’re all just going to rap… I think everybody is gonna have their own opinion of who did the best [on the track]. I’m saying basically that song’s called ‘Best@It’ [because] I feel like these are my three [top emcees]. I love Jay-Z, I think he’s so great, and I love a lot of other rappers [too] but they’re completely out of my world. In terms of like people who just spit, these are the people that I feel like are my favorites.”   
 
Ant’s live-sounding soul-and-funk-fused production reaches its arguable pinnacle during the Atmosphere beatmaker’s breakdown mid-song of his funky guitar creation on “Best@It,” which precedes Ali furiously firing at his anemic ’09 microphone competition, “There can only be one champ around here/I am not a peer, I’m up here.

Speaking of his Rap peers, Ali takes one particular “fake” fellow artist to task on the last verse of “Crown Jewel” as a bluesy guitar gives way to jazzy horns. Ali didn’t want to reveal to DX who that artist jealous of his success was but did explain that, “I’m not somebody that’s hated on a whole lot. I’m an artist that you either like or you don’t even care about. On the Internet somebody might say, ‘He’s wack,’ but they don’t really think that. They think I’m iight. Nobody thinks I’m wack. There’s nothing wack about me. It’s just [my music is] not for them. And that’s so cool. I have no problem with that… But all through my life I’ve had like one person who is obsessed with hating me. And I mean to the point where…it’s bad…to the point where they would kill me. This ain’t no metaphor, I’m saying all through my life I’ve always had - And it’s changed people a couple times. I had one in high school. I had one when I was in my twenties. And I had one the last couple of years… [On that verse] I’m just talking about…the idea of hate in general. That’s another time [on the album] where I try to really look into [someone else’s] heart and [see] what’s motivating them. ‘My shadow isn’t why it’s cold where you’re at/My goals and advancements ain’t what’s holding you back.’ People who don’t take responsibility for their own situation, they really think that the successful people are the reason why they’re not succeeding. They think that there’s only so much success that exists in the world, and if you’re hogging it all then you’re the reason why they can’t have any of it. And that’s just not true. There’s enough love out here in the world for all of us.”    

In addition to addressing hatin’-ass artists, Ali also takes folks in the hood living beyond their means to task on another album standout, “Games,” as he queries over a high-octane organ, “Why you got Cable? Your life is not stable/Lights not paid for, Nike’s on layaway though.”

Listeners will have to decide if Ali’s foray into social studies is a positive sign of an artist’s growth and expansion of his content, or the pretentious musings of someone lecturing to his largely straight white male, middle-class, college-age audience about why they’re not as socially tolerant to black folks, immigrants, women and homosexuals as he is. While “The Preacher” is careful not to stand on a soapbox and lecture directly at his listeners on Us, instead making his points regarding race, gender and class cleverly through the stories of others, Ali’s shift in content is still a daring new direction, one that runs the risk of alienating his fans who don’t look or live like the subjects of his new songs.

The people in the neighborhoods that I identify with, they don’t listen to this kind of Rap,” said Ali. “If I was talking [only] to them the message would be more like that song ‘Games.’ The message would be, ‘Let’s get it together ‘cause nobody’s gonna help us.’ But the people’s ear who I do have don’t even know that these things are out there, or have never thought that they had anything to do with them. So I’m trying to explain these things in a way that’s like, ‘Yes, this has everything to do with you.’ White people don’t realize that they need black people to be free in order for them to be free. Can’t nobody be free ‘til we’re all free… And white people don’t even know they’re not free, ‘cause they have cars and houses and soccer for their kids. They’re so comfortable that they don’t even know that they’re slaves too.”   
 
While debate will certainly rage online (and yes, even in the streets) in a couple of weeks as to whether or not Us is the undisputed classic effort that The Undisputed Truth was, with a slew of standout selections (“The Preacher,” “Us” [click to view], “Best@It,” “House Keys,” “Games,” “Babygirl,” “Crown Jewel,” and more) included on Ali’s latest long player the Minneapolis emcee is sure to once again garner the critical praise and loyal support of nearly a hundred-thousand faithful that has propelled him to the top of the independent Rap game in recent years…even if according to Ali some of those tens of thousands of supporters need to use Us less as music to rage against the machine to and more as a thought-provoking educational tool to take away from the street preacher’s stories of his family and friends what they took away from past documents of his own life, as Ali explained, “Some of [my fans] probably [listened] to me [at first and] if you [would have asked them], ‘What are Muslims about?’ They’d be like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know any Muslims.’ And now they feel like they do…. These people are like, ‘I know somebody that’s Muslim now, and they’re not like that. They’re not all like that.’ … The idea is all these things that are so foreign to them are not to me. Dude, that’s my life. And so, can I start telling these stories from my life and stretch that connection even a little bit further? That was the intent of this record.

Us is due in stores September 22nd from Rhymesayers Entertainment.

In related news, Brother Ali readies his tour with dates below:

09.22 – Duluth, MN – Pizza Luce
09.23 – Mankato, MN – What’s Up Lounge
09.24 – Iowa City, IA – The Industry
09.25 – Sioux Falls, SD – Nutty’s North (Outside) | Buy Tickets
09.26 – Omaha, NE – The Waiting Room | Buy Tickets
09.27 – Lawrence, KS – Granada | Buy Tickets
09.29 – Denver, CO – Ogden Theatre | Buy Tickets
09.30 – Boulder, CO – Fox Theatre | Buy Tickets
10.01 – Colorado Springs, CO – The Black Sheep | Buy Tickets
10.02 – Salt Lake City, UT – In The Venue | Buy Tickets
10.03 – Boise, ID – The Venue | Buy Tickets
10.04 – Missoula, MT – The Badlander
10.06 – Spokane, WA – The Boulevard | Buy Tickets
10.07 – Seattle, WA – Neumo’s | Buy Tickets
10.08 – Victoria, BC – Element
10.09 – Vancouver, BC – Venue
10.10 – Bellingham, WA – The Nightlight
10.11 – Portland, OR – Hawthorne Theater | Buy Tickets
10.12 – Eugene, OR – WOW Hall | Buy Tickets
10.14 – Arcata, CA – Humboldt State University | Buy Tickets
10.15 – Reno, NV – The New Oasis | Buy Tickets
10.16 – Santa Cruz, CA – The Catalyst | Buy Tickets
10.17 – San Francisco, CA – Slim’s | Buy Tickets
10.18 – Santa Clara, CA – Avalon Nightclub | Buy Tickets
10.20 – Los Angeles, CA – El Rey Theatre | Buy Tickets
10.21 – San Diego, CA – Cane’s | Buy Tickets
10.22 – Tempe, AZ – Club Red | Buy Tickets
10.23 – Tucson, AZ – Club Congress | Buy Tickets
10.24 – Albuquerque, NM – Sunshine Theater | Buy Tickets
10.26 – Lubbock, TX – The Foundation
10.27 – Dallas, TX – Granada Theater | Buy Tickets
10.28 – Austin, TX – Emo’s Alternative Lounging | Buy Tickets
10.29 – Houston, TX – Warehouse Live | Buy Tickets
11.01 – Orlando, FL – The Social | Buy Tickets
11.04 – Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle | Buy Tickets
11.05 – Baltimore, MD – The Ottobar | Buy Tickets
11.06 – Philadelphia, PA – First Unitarian Church | Buy Tickets
11.07 – New York, NY – Irving Plaza | Buy Tickets
11.08 – Boston, MA – The Paradise | Buy Tickets
11.09 – Burlington, VT – Higher Ground | Buy Tickets
11.10 – Portland, ME – The Asylum
11.11 – Northampton, MA – Pearl Street | Buy Tickets
11.13 – Cleveland Heights, OH – Grog Shop | Buy Tickets
11.14 – Columbus, OH – Skully’s Music Diner
11.15 – Louisville, KY – Uncle Pleasants | Buy Tickets
11.17 – Ann Arbor, MI – Blind Pig | Buy Tickets
11.18 – Chicago, IL – Metro | Buy Tickets
11.19 – Madison, WI – Barrymore Theatre | Buy Tickets
11.20 – Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue | Buy Tickets

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