Hip-Hop Artist Brother Ali Discusses New Album and the Politics Behind It
- Nov. 13, 2012
- 0 Comments
Brother Ali, a musician from Minneapolis, is perhaps best known for his politically driven lyrics and his Midwestern hip-hop sound. He has been on the independent hip-hop label Rhymesayers Entertainment since 2000 and has released five full-length albums. He is most well known for his single, “Uncle Sam G – - d – - -,” that he released in 2007. His most recent album, Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, was released in September 2012. He was born with albinism, is legally blind and has been practicing Islam for the last 19 years. That combination of factors has influenced how he views the U.S. government, which he has criticized in many tracks on previous albums. Today, he has different views which he shares on his newest album. On the opening track “Letter to my Countrymen,” he says, “I used to think I hated this place, couldn’t wait to tell the president straight to his face, but lately I’ve changed, nowadays I embrace it all, beautiful ideas and amazing flaws.” PopFiber reporter Colin Wright talked with Brother Ali about his music and the politics that drive it.
What do you think is the role of politics in music?
I think that politics is one of the things that music can and should address. Before this era that we’re living in now, music and art and culture was there to address and to express the living of life but we’ve lost that. The people in power have really impressed upon us that art should only be entertainment. They have created an atmosphere that it’s almost considered rude for someone who is an artist to have anything to say about politics. It’s not every musician’s job to address politics though. Some music just deals with partying, fashion, fun and sex and that’s fine because those are all part of life. I am pushing for music being something bigger than that, like the ideals and concepts.
What do you hope that people take away from your music?
That we need to see ourselves through the lens of other people and who we are as Americans. We have this image of ourselves but we need to see ourselves through the eyes of Native Americans, African Americans and gay brothers and lesbian sisters. This is how we get a genuine idea and an honest idea of who we really are and then we can reimagine who we could be and what we say we are, which is a combination of freedom, equality, justice and opportunity.
What is the theme of your new album and what is the fuel behind your lyrics?
I was born looking different and it made me think about things differently and that’s my reality. I had a unique and unconventional journey to become who I am. My music has always been about my personal struggle, like hope and love in the face of personal suffering. People say that my music is political but even the word political means something different now. Today, it’s about a checkers match between the liberals and conservatives. That’s absolutely not what my music is about. The old-school definition of politics is “us as a group, how we live, what our priorities are, what opportunities people have, where our goods and resources go, etc.”
What was it like collaborating with the author and activist, Dr. Cornel West, on your new album?
It was great. I reached out to a lot of mutual friends and we finally got in touch last year and spent an entire day together when he was teaching at Princeton. I wanted to show him the album and I wanted him to contribute some of his words, but most importantly, I wanted him to give me his blessing. There are a lot of his ideas on the album that are inspired by him are and some are even straight up quotes from him and I was able to get his blessing.
Are you optimistic about the direction in which this country is heading?
No, but I am hopeful. Optimism is the idea that if you think positively, things will magically get better and that’s never true. Hope is different, hope says that if I’m willing to sacrifice and take some risks and do what’s right, then there will be a reward and I do believe in that. We need to be willing to sacrifice our privilege. We think that we’re the good guys and we’re not. Until men are able to make the world more fair for women, and white people for non-white people, straight people for gay people, Christians for non-Christians, we’re going to struggle.
Feature image photo credit: BrotherAli.com