Rhymesayers recording artist Brother Ali recalls rapping for the first time around the age of 7; since then, it’s been such a part of his life he can hardly conceive of himself separate from hip-hop.
“It’s that thing that I’ve always loved doing, the music and the attitude and the culture and what I learned from it,” he says in a recent interview. “It’s just who I am. It’s not like something that I just started doing one day. It’s what I’ve always been doing.”
A legally blind albino who was born and raised in the Midwest and converted to Islam at age 15. Brother Ali speaks about his experiences on the recently released The Undisputed Truth, his second full-length album.
“I like music that makes you feel something,” he says. “I like music that comes from people’s hearts, and that you really feel like you get to know a person and their music and that’s what I’ve always liked the best. And so that’s what I try to do.”
Social criticism complements personal reflection on The Undisputed Truth, which addresses the breakup of Brother Ali’s first marriage (“Walking Away”) and his relationship with his son (“Faheem”), as well as his dissatisfaction with America’s politics and history (“Letter From the Government,” “Uncle Sam Goddamn”). The effort is replete with the souped-up funk and soul beats of Ant—a producer who’s collaborated with Brother Ali since his official debut and who’s also one-half of Ali’s labelmate Atmosphere.
As a seasoned artist, Brother Ali professes disinterest in pledging allegiance to any banner narrower than simply hip-hop. While critics and fans have shuffled his music into labels of “conscious hip-hop” or “intelligent hip-hop,” he eschews those terms as condescending.
“I don’t believe in any of that,” he says. “I think all of that is made-up stuff…I think that a lot of newcomers to hip-hop kinda caused that and made those ideas up of sectioning off hip-hop into different things. And you know which part of it is more valuable than others, and I don’t believe in any of that. I make hip-hop music and it’s me, it’s my personal life and, you know, it’s my personality.”
Brother Ali plays the Badlander on Saturday, June 2, at 9 PM. BK-One, Psalm One and Boom Bap Project open. $12.