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Brother Ali

“I look at music,” said Rhymesayers resident Muslim MC, Brother Ali. “Not just hip-hop, but music. I’m not competing with any of my contemporaries when I make music…I’m looking at Stevie Wonder as the standard; Otis Redding, that’s [the level] I’m aiming for.”

Ali, a resident of Minneapolis, MN is the new breed of rapper, one that’s not bound by the constraints of pop radio and record contracts. As a member of the Rhymesayers camp, he is more concerned with creating a quality sound. “The level of talent and quality of people that is around this label is amazing,” he says of his comrades. “It keeps us creating on a different and original level.” He adds, “There’s a crowd out there whose ears are open. They’re supportive and believe in what we are presenting. We have people who don’t listen to hip-hop who listen to us. People are tired of the radio telling them what to listen to.”

When he was growing up, Ali did what many inner city youths did; he caught the rap bug. “I always wanted to rhyme,” he remembers. He would buy all the records that were relevant at the time and listen to them over and over again. Eventually, he started amassing equipment and producing his own beats and rhymes. Listening to great producers like Premier and Prince Paul, he became influenced by the records they sampled, buying old school soul and funk, while also listening to blues. This led to his appreciation of the craft of music making.

He laments, “[Rap] music was at a higher quality until about the mid-90’s, and I wanted to be a part of that. But when Tupac and Biggie were slain, and Mase became the new icon, it started to suck. It was more about being famous than about making good music. So I stopped buying records. I got frustrated and said ‘forget about it.’”

It wasn’t until a friend gave him a tape of Gangstarr’s Moment of Truth album, and then discovered Beyond and Atmosphere that, “I woke up. I got excited again.” This led to Ali hanging out at the venues and parties where the shows took place. He would eventually befriend Slug and Ant and other members of the Rhymesayers collective before becoming a member himself.

This led to the release of Brother Ali’s spectacular debut album Shadows On The Sun. Full of stories, freestyles and battle rhymes, the album was ten years of his heart and soul. Behind the strength of this debut, Ali toured. He saw the ups and downs of the road, but was grounded by his faith and kept plugging. Brother Ali also strives to create success because he wants to provide for his young son, of whom he has sole custody. “Being a parent is my main job,” he offers. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The relationship that created this fondness for fatherhood also created lots of friction for his mental state and his music pursuits, because like Eminem, Ali got married young. However, he says, he has since entered into a more nurturing, supportive relationship, that has allowed him to grow, learn and create once more. And, after the critically acclaimed Shadows and its follow-up, The Champion EP, both released in ’04, the time has come for a new Brother Ali project.

The new album, due out in spring of ’06, is said to be, “The most raw, honest, and personal record I could make. There’s no camera tricks involved here, no collabo’s, just what I think is good music.” From a guy who has always produced quality, it is a welcomed return. To his fans and audiences he says thanks for listening. Thanks for the support.

This Friday their second night in Colorado takes place at Cervantes with Cage, Ill Bill and Eyedea (& his band), after playing The Fox Theater on Thursday. Both are All Ages shows.


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