A Rare Interview w/ Brother Ali pt 1
A Rare Interview w/ Brother Ali pt 1www.TheOG.net
Hands down the deepest interview with Brother Ali that you will get! We sat down with the Brother and talked about everything from ANT (his producer) to why Ali feels Jay-Z is one of the illest in rap's history. We covered so many subjects that we had to split it into two parts. Here's the first part for you all. TheOG: So you dropped Rites of Passage, then Shadows On the Sun, and then the Champion EP, so what’s coming up next?
Brother Ali: I’m actually just finishing an album right now called The Undisputed Truth.
TheOG: And are you still working with ANT?
Brother Ali: Yep, it’s ANT on the whole thing. Me and ANT, we are really a group, you know? Like a Guru and DJ Premier kind of thing. I just feel like he brings out the best in me, and I think I also bring out the best in him, in terms of production and ideas. ANT is really a multi-layered individual, and so the different artists he works with lets him show different sides of his personality and who he is. Working with me really brings out some of the old school hip-hop, and also there is a certain level of emotional stuff that we do together that allows him to show some different moods. The main thing that is great about him is that he’s not there to draw a bunch of attention to himself, like look at this beat I made, but more like look at what I can bring out of this person, this artist I work with, the mood that he creates that makes you want to write certain things, just make you dig a little bit deeper inside yourself. And then also, creating like a whole album that hits different highs and lows, that takes you different places in terms of the sound, the energy, the mood of the songs. And then tie it together into a package that you can sit down and listen to from beginning to end. He’s really about making you look your best, which most people who are called producers now, don’t do that, they’re not there to do that but instead to get credit for themselves. ANT has never been into that. At the end of his time, he wants you to say, “that man made amazing albums with people, and the artists he worked with did their best work with him.”
TheOG: It seems like most producers nowadays aren’t producers, like you said, they are more like salesmen, selling beats.
Brother Ali: They’re not even there for the song, they’re not even in the room when they make the song. With ANT,what we do, at his house he has an old-school four-track, and we sit in his house all night and we can take as much time as we want with nobody else hearing it. It’s just the two of us, and we make a song and just try different things and ideas, and if they don’t work, nobody ever hears them and we didn’t spend any money, so we can just get loose and do whatever we want. The songs that we like, we take to the studio and re-record them there. Not even the people at Rhymesayers hear the @#%$ until we think it’s worthy. Mainly the way that most producers work is that they mail you the beat, or they e-mail it, and you pay them and then they’re done.
Once they get their check, they don’t give a @#%$ and they’re on to the next. It does seem like the one MC one producer thing is starting to make a comeback, but I think it will be a trend, like people will do it for a couple of years and then they’ll leave it. But, you know, Kanye and Common made that album, and I heard a rumor that NaS and DJ Premier are gonna make a whole album together. Which would be fresh, I mean I wish that would happen more often. You know, if you try to create anything, like if you’re trying to build an airplane or something, and you have one guy come in and does one wing, and then another guy does the other wing, and then another person does the cockpit, and somebody else, you know it just doesn’t make sense. People wouldn’t want to fly in that, because there was no master plan to make all of those pieces work together.
But you know, most people don’t try and make albums, they try to make a hit. So instead of making a rounded album, they take thirteen or fifteen tracks and a hit, instead of making songs that do other things instead of trying to be hits.
TheOG: It’s also crazy how much people are willing to spend for a hot beat. On this tip, I feel like the most remarkable thing about Shadows On the Sun was that it was consistent, all the way through. There was no filler, it was a consistently a solidly good album, and I feel like that is really rare in hip-hop these days.
Brother Ali: That’s what we really try to do. And it seems like people either really like it, or they don’t even mess with it at all – there’s no in betweens. That’s what I like, that was my whole thing when I made that record. There is so much underground hip-hop, and so much of it is mediocre, at least at that time, it feels like it’s getting worse and worse. At that time there was a lot of mediocre independent, underground rap and there was so much @#%$ coming out, every Tuesday there was a whole wall full of new 12-inches at our store. And it was forgettable, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. It was good and it covered all the basics, but it was really forgettable music that was coming out for like a five year period. You couldn’t really diss it, you know… to me it would be better for @#%$ to just be terrible, so you could laugh at it or some @#%$. For me, I knew I wasn’t going to be wack, I just didn’t want to be mediocre. And I think we did it, the people that listen to us really like it a lot, and the people who don’t, we’re not even on their radar.
TheOG: Yeah, that’s how it should be. So, Rhymesayers has just been blowin’ up these last few years, so many new artists dropping albums and whatnot. What do you think the future holds for the Rhymesayers?
Brother Ali: I think its gonna be really great. It’s basically a label that was started as a crew, it used to be a crew called the Headshots. It was like all the best, young, up and coming MCs, DJs, b-boys, graff writers, and producers from the Twin Cities in the mid-90’s. And they basically operated as a family – one person would put out an album, they would pool all their resources and put out albums and mixtapes. They would take the money from that and buy new equipment and make some more @#%$ and put out more @#%$, and everyone would be on these tapes. They decided to turn that crew into a record label, and that’s when the name Rhymesayers came about. They took all the money from the tapes and the shows that they were doing and they put out the Beyond album, and with the money from that they put out the first Atmosphere album which was Overcast. And you know, now it’s more of a business, it’s a record label, but it still has that crew feeling for the core members. It has expanded a lot, and about six years ago they started renting this place in uptown Minneapolis, and made a record store there called Fifth Element, and kind of set-up a makeshift office in the back. The Rhymesayers store room is in the basement of that building, and then we ended up buying the building from the person we were renting it from, and renovated it, knocked all the walls, made the store bigger, built a second level on the top for offices. Now we’re building a studio there, and we are moving the studio inside there. Artists on the label are happy for the most part, and we all control our part of what we’re doing, you know, none of us are at the mercy of the label. It’s really more of a partnership than a label, every artist has the most input that they could possibly have.
TheOG: So, what’s it like being a sober MC in the underground hip-hop world?
Brother Ali: I mean, I don’t know it any other way, you know what I mean?
TheOG: But as far as relationships with other artists, other people in the community…
Brother Ali: Well, I have people that I’m cool with, and I’m cool with just about everybody. The people that I’m not cool with, I just never see them, you know, I don’t know them. But, there are a lot of people who I’m on good speaking terms with, and then there are people who have become more than just comrades. I never really tried to pretend that the people at my job, when I was working jobs, were my close friends. We were both coming to the same place everyday for the same reason, so it’s easy to feel like you’re friends, but if you had just met that person somewhere, they would be just another @#%$. So with a lot of rappers and DJ’s, it’s like yeah these people are cool, we’re all doing the same thing, we have something in common, I have no ill will towards them, I like them, when I see them it makes me happy. I like seeing them be successful, you know, because I’m a person who believes that there is enough out here for all of us to be successful, and I don’t feel like I’m in competition with any of them, with any underground rapper. I don’t see it that way at all, and mainly it’s because when they get successful they get more fans that didn’t even know about hip-hop to begin with, so that’s somebody that… you know, if Aesop Rock sells 300,000 records to new people, all those people are going to start listening to Atmosphere and eventually they’re going to listen to me. Underground hip-hop fans, they don’t support one and not the other one, they like everything that’s good and so when people sell records, all of those people’s fans are eventually gonna come @#%$ with me. So go do your thing, you know! Also, they’re out here busting their asses and grinding like me, so when they make it feels like the good guy winnin’. And some of them are really close personal friends, like I would say that I’m as close with MURS as I am with the majority of my friends. Blueprint is the same way, and, me and Slug have a kind of big brother-little brother kind of thing. That dude has done nothing but help me, ever since I met him, or ever since I went on tour with him. But whatever man, them being drunk and high, it doesn’t really affect anything between us. The only way it really does affect us, and maybe it makes me better friends with those people because I don’t hang out with them, like there’s no reason for me to go to the bar. If I go to the bar, I’m just gonna bum ‘em out, you know? So the times that I hang out with them, like at my house, or their house, or we’re eating, or working on something or whatever, it’s times when I get to see that person for who they truly are instead of what jokes they can tell when they’re drunk. That drunk socializing is just bullshit to me, you know, I don’t envy it.
TheOG: It’s not something you’re jealous of.
Brother Ali: There are times when I feel bad, like when I’m out with people and they are just partying, ‘cuz it’s like I know I’m not adding to your fun right now. I don’t hate on it either, I just say hey, if that’s what you like, man, go and do you. There have been a lot of times when I’ve been out at bars with Slug and just been like, man! And he’s sitting there trying to entertain me and @#%$, and I’m just like dude I’m out, I’m going to the hotel, you guys do your thing.. I would look through the whole jukebox like, is there some music that I can play that’s gonna make me have fun.
TheOG: Not usually?
Brother Ali: Yeah, not usually. And that dude goes to weird bars man. I can’t even find Parliament or Stevie Wonder or anything, but, I don’t like @#%$ that I don’t really know about.
TheOG: So is Slug a crazed party type dude?
Brother Ali: Nah, especially less and less. I don’t want to say he’s getting older, but the further he gets from 21, you know? He’s not crazy, I think a lot of people think that that dude is just crazy, but he’s not. He’ll drink a beer, might smoke some weed sometimes, it’s not all that crazy.I think a lot of people think that his life is on some Rick James @#%$. He’s a good dude, people that know him know that he cares a lot about people, he cares a lot about his affect on people. He takes care of everyone around him, so much so that I’m like damn homie! Every time I hang out with him, he gets phone calls from people trying to borrow money, from people who owe him money, people that he paid for their band to go make a demo. He’s just an amazing dude. If he has to play big-headed, arrogant, smartass, he can definitely do that. But when you really talk to him, he is just trying to be great, and you can’t convince him that he’s great.
TheOG: That’s dope. So, do you have any plans to go back on tour anytime soon?
Brother Ali: Umm, yeah, I’m gonna do some sort of supporting tour this spring. I have never done my own tour, there’s never been a Brother Ali tour, I’ve always supported other people, and I’m cool with that, because I’ve been developing my @#%$ and building my team. I’ve been developing my catalogue to the point where I can flow a good hour and a half show that’s gonna have different moods, the same way we make a record. Nobody wants to see you being rowdy for an hour, nobody wants to see you being soul-baring for an hour, you gotta have different pieces. So over the years we’ve built up a good show, and we’re gonna go out one more time, supporting different @#%$ and opening for people, and in the fall, we’re gonna do my tour.
TheOG: The Brother Ali Tour – this is going to be after you drop your second album?
Brother Ali: Yeah, I’m thinking the album will come in the summer, and then the tour will be in the fall. But that could chance, things come up sometimes, you know? You do the best things based on what the circumstances are, and the circumstances now might not be the same in the fall, but that’s my plan and that’s what I’ve been working toward. I didn’t want to step out until I was ready, and people have been telling me for the last year to do my own tour, that people would come see me, and I’ve done little headlining runs through the Midwest, and those are the hardest markets. We’ve been successful, we have had a lot of success doing that in what they call secondary markets, like Omaha, Nebraska, which is a big one for me, that’s one of my favorite places to play in the world. So we do there, we do Iowa City, you know, places like that, and then we also do the larger markets like Detroit and Chicago. So people have been telling me for a long time that I’m ready, and I thought that draw-wise, in terms of drawing a crowd of people that could make me money I was ready, but I didn’t think that my show was quite ready. I didn’t think that I was quite developed as an artist – just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it. But now, I think I’m ready. And once I get this new album out and get some more material… ‘cuz I have Shadows on the Sun and then the Champion EP, which is a total of like 30 songs, and when this comes out I will have a good ‘nother 20 or something like that.
TheOG: Yeah I saw you a while back at the Knitting Factory with MF Doom and man, I thought your set was too short, I was ready for another hour of that.
Brother Ali: That’s what that supporting thing is all about, hit hard and then step off. That was weird, ‘cuz when I did that MF Doom one I had just come off of a headlining run. I had just done one of my Midwest things, and then went straight from headlining to supporting, which are two very different things.
TheOG: So how do you keep your music and your family straight, do you find that those two things conflict?
Brother Ali: Yeah, they definitely do a lot.
TheOG: What’s the hardest part of keeping those two things in line with each other?
Brother Ali: That they both just need a lot of time, energy, and emotional investment to be right. I care about both of them, those are my two big loves, actually I would say I have three: Islam, family, and music. And Islam really works perfect with both of them, Islam is not a conflict with anything else. Islam helps try and keep things balanced, strong, and positive, and it just helps with other stuff. Whereas family really needs all your time and all your energy and all your emotional investment and all your money, and music is the same way. Music, really, to do it right, needs all your time, and it needs all your thought, and so, I go back and forth between neglecting the two. I don’t think it’s ever going to be perfect, just gotta not neglect either one to the point where you damage it, cuz if I had to choose I would rather just do music for fun and not try and sell it to people, and just have my family. Eventually that’s probably where I’ll be at. So yeah, you just try to not neglect one or the other, and you know I’m not motivated by just me with music, like me being the man or whatever – hip-hop means something to me that’s really big. It’s a really big cultural/historical thing that happened right before I was born and that I grew up with. It has everything to do with who I am and what I became as a man, as a person. And so, to me that’s big. For me to be involved in it… I don’t think anyone should be involved in it unless they truly respect it. Even if you might be considered an outsider to it, like there are people that I see where I’m like, “you are not a hip-hop person”, you know, but then I get to know them and find out that they have an amazing respect. And you can see it in the music, you can see when someone is on stage or hearing their record, or when you watch them and interact with them – you can tell who really truly cares about this legacy. Because it’s amazing, the more you study about the cultural significance of hip-hop and what it meant for the people who created it and what it means for the being who maintain it and nurture it and grow it. It’s an amazing thing.
End of Part 1