*Minneapolis MC Brother Ali paid CJLO a visit April 11, 2010 to record a session for Hooked on Sonics. I got to sit down and talk with him about a range of subjects from his conversion to Islam, religion in general, culture, identity, and how far he goes to put himself out there personally in his music.
NOTE - Audio for the interview is available below. Transcription courtesy of Brian H.
[HOOKED ON SONICS]
[INTERVIEW PART 1] [INTERVIEW PART 2] [INTERVIEW PART 3] [INTERVIEW PART 4]
Omar: I guess it's kind of like what we started off talking with, all of these different things that made you as much more of a minority than anybody else, is the same concept that make you different from everybody else is what makes you an individual and that, in effect, forms an identity as a person.
Brother Ali: Yeah, I mean, I'm not a minority though, it's not the same. Race trumps everything [laughter], so I still have my complete white privilege. [laughter] I do. And there's nothing you can do about it. But the more comfortable you are just being a human being, the more comfortable you become with the truth, and that's just the truth.
Omar: That comedian Louis C.K. has a whole bit about how he's white and how he's like, you know, "there's nothing bad about this" 'cause of the fact that everyone else gets the bad card and because he's white he gets the top ladder and it sucks, but that's how it is.
Brother Ali: Well I mean what you can do is to try and free yourself from that thinking... “White” is a mindstate, nobody's born white, it's just not true. You live white because our whole society believes in white. So you live a white life but it's not from God, you're not born with it.
Omar: Yeah, it comes from your environment.
Brother Ali: You can be born German or Jewish or Scandanavian or Polish or whatever, but that's not the same thing as being white. White is a made-up thing. Even the symbolic, scriptural meaning of white and black, because European people aren't white. I'm Albino, and European, and I'm not white, so nobody's white. And the darkest African people aren't black. You gotta think, "we're pink and brown, so why isn't it called pink and brown"? Because firstly black and white are polar opposites. And then black and white also have symbolic meaning that white is considered good, pure, superior, righteous, holy. Black is considered evil, scary, sinister. And that does something to people, and so when Malcolm and Farrad, it was really Farrad who made up this "white man is the devil".
Omar: It's like when Malcolm was in prison and they were showing him the dictionary definition of “white” and “black”.
Brother Ali: And when they say "the white man is the devil", they're not talking about caucasian people, they're talking about that thinking, the concept of what it means to be white, and it's evil. It just is. And so when people say, "I'm white, stop talking bad about me", I'm not. It's a thinking that you either accept or reject and we're taught that before we ever get a chance to start thinking and make decisions for ourselves. And it's not for our own benefit, believe or not. We benefit from it in certain ways but that's not why.
The people that control things didn't make these races up or didn't invent these concepts for us to have power, it's to keep us seperated and to keep it so after a while, the people who control things never had to hit a slave with a whip because they've got a white person that's convinced that they're higher up on the totem poll and they're a part of the ruling class and so they hit the slave with the whip and the real person that's running the show gets to sit in the house and eat cookies and do whatever they wanna do. And so the more comfortable we are with just being human beings, the more comfortable we feel around the truth. The truth isn't our enemy anymore, but until that point we allow ourselves to be instruments and party to this very evil thing in the world. You know, they talk about the "mainstream" and in a stream you got a momentum from all this water going in a direction, like a river, and everything that is a part of that thing is adding to the momentum of it and so when society is going in a direction, if you don't physically or decisively push in the other direction, you're perpetuating it-
Omar: You get swept away with everything else.
Brother Ali: Yeah and you become a part of it just by default. I used to be like that with gay people, because the whole society is so anti-gay and thinks that because gay people are different that it's a license to terrorize them, torture them, kill them, brutalize them, terrify them... And so on my first album, I said the word "faggot" twice, I didn't have any particular hate for gay people, I wasn't talking about them when I said that word, but it's a terrifying, evil word for a gay person to have to hear, as a human being. So me saying that word, I have to own up to the fact that people play my first album, walk around with their headphones, and say this terrible word all the time because of me. And so one of the songs I did was called 'Tight Rope', I tried to, now that I have gay friends and understand a little bit more, I've tried to correct some of the wrongs that I've done. But you know if society's all moving in one direction, you can't sit there when the direction is wrong. If you're just complacent then you are a part of that evil thing, unless you physically stand up. Martin Luther King said it best: "If you don't stand for something then you fall for anything."
Omar: "If you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem." Stokey Carmichael.
Brother Ali: Exactly. You wanna trade quotes? I got a quote book in my house too.
Omar: Let's go!
Brother Ali: "Be the chance that you want to see in the world." Gandhi.
Brother Ali: "My humps. My lovely lady lumps."
Omar: Do you find it necessary to use, the sort of pulpit that you have to spread a message?
Brother Ali: Nope. It just worked out like that. Initially I just... Hip-hop and rhyming, I've just done t hat all my life, since I was a little kid, that's all I've ever done. Everyone who's known me since I was a kid has known me for that. Even at the mosque, everybody knows, "that's what he does."
Omar: Was it the influences maybe? I know myself, I grew up admiring bands like Public Enemy or Fugazi or Bad Religion based on the fact that they used their position to spread messages about certain things.
Brother Ali: Me too. I respected a lot of that too, but I mean, I like a lot of music that I don't like the message of always.
Omar: Like Fergie.
Brother Ali: In a way, yeah. That's not my jam.
Omar: [laughs] I’m just teasing you.
Brother Ali: But really though, I honestly respect will.i.am for his ability to make a pop song and do it consistently and make it really universal, so that people who do not come from his environment, he's able to give them their favourite song of the year. People that actually might look down on him..
Omar: Like myself.
Brother Ali: Like think of the people that go out and sing "I gotta feeling, tonight's gonna be a good night", like frat boys with their white baseball hats, if they saw will.iam in a parking lot they'd be like "look out, bro. This black guy's gonna rob you." But he figured out a way to give them their favourite song and that's a talent. But I think I'm like the last 50 Cent fan left on earth.
Omar: Have you seen his new record (Before I Self-Destruct)? With the DVD?
Brother Ali: Nah, I just... That one doesn't exist to me.
Omar: I wanna watch that movie so bad. It looks horrible.
Brother Ali: See, man, I don't like laughing at him... Yeah, sometimes I do.
Omar: Come on! [laughter]
Brother Ali: But I'm saying, R. Kelly. I might be the last R. Kelly fan. And N.W.A. A lot of the stuff I grew up on wasn't good, like Nana had that N-word-For-Life album. It was purposefully negative, like they were trying to push it as far as they could go. And when I grew up, my favourite music was Public Enemy and N.W.A. and PE is all positive, power-to-the-people stuff and N.W.A. has skits where they're like kidnapping prostitutes and murdering them. It's strange like that. So, no, I don't think with music that you have a responsibility to do that. I don’t. I think that it's not even a responsibility, but if you express yourself in some kind of genuine way there's some kind of truth in what you're saying and that truth will connect with people. Because even through all that stuff, now that I'm 30, you know, that part of that N.W.A. record I'm like "this is silly, slash, terrible", but there's something in their music and they're also people who said "fuck the police" in public for the first time and like, they brought a lot of truth to the world that people didn't know about before.