Big Brother: Minneapolis rapper speaks his heart through music
FARGO — With all of the ugliness and strife in the world now, if you only know of Minneapolis rapper Brother Ali from his controversial 2007 track "Uncle Sam Goddamn," you might expect him to be very politicized these days.
And you'd be very wrong.
When Ali brings the beats to the Fargo Brewing Co. on Thursday night, July 26, he'll be playing songs from his latest album, "All the Beauty in This Whole Life," which even his critics would admit presents a kinder, gentler rapper.
"There have been times when I've wanted to make specific music about the political situation. ('All the Beauty') is related to the situation, but it talks more about the state of the heart and how to maintain being grounded with all of the ugliness in the world. How to be grounded in beauty and rooted in truth," the artist said last week from his Minneapolis home.
Does he have faith that beauty and truth will win out?
"For me, it's less about what will happen and more about what's important to focus on," he said. "I don't know what will happen in the future. There seems to be a downward trend. I don't believe things get better on their own by the passage of time. I don't think everything progresses. It's important to hold onto what's most sacred and most important."
That attitude can be seen in songs like "Own Light (What Hearts Are For)" off the new album.
"They've been trying to shut us down our whole life / I thank God for healing / You ain't got to get me lit, I got my own light," he raps.
While he doesn't get too political, he is very socially aware and involved. "Dear Black Son" is an open letter to his own teenage boy in the days of Black Lives Matter.
"Dear Black Son, there's people you've never met / Who fear and hate you for something that you never did / And these people are so self-convinced / Sometimes they pull the trigger, call that self-defense / And in that sad insanity / Their fear is realer to them than your humanity."
Being something of a target for scrutiny is something the rapper is used to. Born with the genetic condition albinism, Ali felt stares from a young age.
"The first day of third grade / Topic of discussion at the kickball game / Is who's the new student why he look that way? / A eight-year-old expert determined I've got AIDS," he raps in "Pray for Me."
Later, as Ali came into his own as a rapper, he converted to Islam, making the "albino, Muslim rapper" label a popular way to try and label him when he made his debut in 2000.
But Ali proved he was more than just an easy label. In 2007, he released "The Undisputed Truth" and single "Uncle Sam Goddamn" started making waves, first with corporate sponsors of the tour, and then with Uncle Sam himself.
"That song has caused me a lot of challenges in my personal life," Ali says, explaining that the
Department. of Homeland Security opened a file on him and that he is monitored and at times scrutinized when he travels.
The song's effects are felt overseas, too. Ali was invited to participate in a lecture in Iran and was asked to perform the number, but there was a problem: It is illegal to perform hip-hop in public in Iran, so once video was posted, Ali was forced to flee the country.
"It's less to me about any political environment at any one moment. For me, that song talks about the dark side of what America is, was and continues to be," he says, referring to the song's main themes of racism and consumerism.
"Where I'm strongest is communicating my experiences and my view of things," Ali says when asked if he ever feels pressure to represent a group. "I don't know if it's pressure, responsibility or my joy, but it seems that's what I've really been given, the ability to communicate to people.
Not everybody is interested in what I have to say and that's fine. I'm comfortable because my situation is so unique, people who are unique and feel like outsiders seem to like to listen to me ... When you've been given a gift and you respond to it, it's just the course of your life."
If you go
What: Brother Ali with Dem Atlas, Nooky Jones and D Mills & The Thrills
When: 5 p.m. Thursday, July 26
Where: Fargo Brewing Co. outdoors, 610 N. University Drive
Info: Tickets for this ID-only show are $20 in advance or $25 the day of the show; https://jadepresents.com or 866-300-8300