December 13, 2012

Interview: @BrotherAli “Making A Statement With Music”


Photo Credit: Jonathan Mannion

I had the opportunity to catch up with Brother Ali shortly after the release of his latest album Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color to discuss his relationship with Jake One –the sole producer of the project- and the importance of building a fanbase one listener at a time. Brother Ali, above all, has a penchant for quality, from the insightful studio recordings to the dynamism he delivers via his live show. The common thread throughout is his thought-provoking message that Hip Hop -and society- sorely needs. If you’ve been sleeping on this MC, it’s time to wake up and realize that substance and commerce can coexist as Brother Ali’s message and music seamlessly merge.

Give us a little of the meaning behind the album title and its symbolic nature.

Mourning in America is showing that it’s been as challenging –bad or worse- in America as I’ve ever experienced. Even those who have felt entitled have had their bubble burst. Now, we are experiencing social despair and it’s troubling. But the Dreaming in Color aspect brings about the idea of hope and encouragement for the future. The title represents this duality. There’s a rising of the social classes occurring and the themes on the album represent this.

Describe the connection that you and Jake One have.

We met back in 2000 before either of us had a career and we had talked about doing some things. Also, I want to work with people that really want to work with me. I’m not into chasing people down to convince them to get on my project. The desire to work together has got to be there. During the recording of this album, Jake gave me his strongest beats that he would give anyone; I had first pick. I recorded to a lot of songs along the way, too. As things go, a few of those beats went to guys who had bigger budgets. It’s cool. Jake and I are friends, first, and I understand him selling a beat to an artist where Jake will potentially make more off that one song than our entire project. I respect that.

Explain the significant fanbase you’ve built over the last decade and how it developed.

It’s been gradual, natural, and organic. It’s a lot of work, too! When it doesn’t happen right away and you grow your fanbase slowly, you’re able to tour for a longer period of time. It puts you in a different category than an artist who constantly needs a huge hit to stay touring and relevant to the fans. I’m fortunate to have a body of work that has resonated with the fans over the last decade and I’m very grateful for that.


Brother Ali “Only Life I Know” Directed by Dave Wilson

How does an artist stay true to one’s self and not fall victim to comprising their beliefs?

I’m in a unique position. I don’t have pressure from the industry to do make a certain record or convey a certain image. My success has been predicated on me being sincere. This connects back into being able to tour on a consistent basis.

Explain the significance of touring to you and Rhymesayers in the overall business model.

It’s literally half of what we do! The other half is the music that we make and record. I mean, people go out and get the record but that is only half of the experience. Seeing it live is a very important component, too. The two are companion pieces of each other.

How has being Muslim in Hip-Hip shaped your outlook in how you perceive this genre?How has it influenced you?

It makes me what to express my life and the way that I see things. It informs me as a person which finds its way into the music.

What’s your take on Hip Hop today? 

I think it’s in a great place. There are a lot of young voices out there that are really doing a lot. Kids are really versatile and great who are doing their thing. It’s not just about one movement. Guys like Chuck and KRS are still making music and MCs like me are doing it, too.

What kind of musical vibe inspires you?

It’s either the mood of the music of the movements, something that catches me.

Describe how that feeling translates to the live show?

It brings a whole different feel than just having a DJ up there, even if that person is a great DJ. Having five guys up there playing live provides a dynamic feel and offers more room for creativity. It brings so much more excitement to the show and adds another dimension to the records.

Where is your sound going forward from after this latest album?

I’m just working with this band and a new producer in the studio, which gives me a vast supply of opportunities to express my creativity. After doing this for so long, I feel like I have a new system to operate in and I can a lot of new things. The opportunities really are endless; it’s a new beginning for me.

For more behind the scenes footage of Brother Ali’s new album produced by Jake One, check the video below:

Chris Moss

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