Q&A: Brother Ali

Brother Ali has never been afraid to speak his mind in his rhymes. Apparently that hasn’t changed with the release of Us, his sixth full release to date, last September. Recently one of LOOKOUT's own, Galen Macdonald, got the chance to talk with the Rhymesayers MC about the Breakin’ Dawn Tour with Fashawn and BK One, honest lyricism, and hip hop in the Midwest. You can check out Brother Ali in Montreal at Foufounes Electroniques this Sunday, April 11. Check out the event and LOOKOUT's interview with co-headliner Fashawn!

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So you’re Breakin’ Dawn right now, huh? Other than eating your Wheaties, what keeps you going through 25 shows in a month?

Just love doing it, you know. Got a really good team of people, everybody’s really thorough at doing their job. And I just love doing it, getting up every day and doing the shows. Everyone that’s with us is fun and energetic, and really excited about what we’re doing.

You’ve been very successful making music that’s personal and honest, even on topics—like the verse on closeted homosexuality on “Tight Rope”—that a lot of MCs seem scared to touch. What drives you to make that music, and what pressures come with it?

I don’t think there’s any pressure at all. I make what I feel. Well, I guess the only pressure comes from me just wanting to make the best art that I can, something that’s important to me. I think that everybody has their thing that they’re able to offer as an artist… and I’ve just spent a lot of time--between my own experiences and the people I’m close with—just looking at life, analyzing it and trying to figure it out, and, you know, figure out what makes people do the things they do, what the feelings are behind the situations that we’re in. And I’ve had to learn to navigate my way through my own stuff and then communicate that to the people I’m with. I think those are my best moments as an artist. Even though I like making the more upbeat, rapping for rapping’s sake tracks, those aren’t my strongest moments. The moments people really care about are the ones where I’m talking about something a little more substantial than that.

Yeah, you’ve gained a lot of fame from tracks like “Uncle Sam, Goddamn” and “Forest Whitaker,” but that rapping for rapping’s sake bravado is still there. What does that hip-hop mentality mean to you?

I mean, it’s nothing you do consciously. I don’t have to say, “this has to have this edge, cause it’s hip hop”. This is just how I grew up, you know what I mean? Because I had to fight for everything. So once I get something I want, I start fighting for the next thing.

Being a dad must make that all the more real. Has being a father affected you as an MC?

No, not directly.  It just makes it all more important, because the time you spend with your music you spend away from your kid. So when I’m making music, I have to make the most of it.

Well, you seem to have surrounded yourself with the right kind of musicians for that over at Rhymesayers. What’s it like working with Ant, Slug, P.O.S. and all those guys, and what does the Midwest mean to that label?

I’m really close with Ant, and Slug, and I’m really close with the guys that run the label, Siddiq and J-Bird and Scott and Kevin. That’s the main group of people, and it’s like a family. The Midwest thing, you know, we don’t have the glamour. There’s not a lot of showing off. When you say you’re from New York or LA there’s an image and a personality that comes along with that, but the Midwest—what does that mean? So it’s just me and my story, and what I’m about. I have myself to offer. And I think the same is true of everybody in the Midwest, from Eminem and Common and Kanye West all the way down to me and Slug and P.O.S. The music we make is really personal, It’s about our own lives and who we are as individuals.

Speaking of which, you’ve got a pretty unique website [www.brotherali.com/], with a twitter/forum function. What’s the concept behind that?

What I really wanted to happen was two things. I wanted a centralized place for people to see whats up with me, a home base. And then what I was trying to do on there was to give people a forum to talk about issues, and I’m having a little more difficulty getting people to communicate with each other. What I really want is for us to have conversations about issues worth talking about.

Well good luck with that, and good luck with the tour—we’ll see you in Montreal on April 11th at Foufunes Electroniques?

Yeah, thank you.

Tickets available at:

Downtown:

Foufounes Electriques

Off the Hook (1021a St. Catherine O.)

High Times (1385 St. Catherine O.)

NDG:

Sub V (5666 Sherbrooke O.)

Plateau:

Lunetz (4269 St. Denis)

G&G Barbershop (28 Des Pins E.)

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