*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: The last question I wanted to ask you is about Minneapolis. We were talking a bit about that in the car, and when we had P.O.S. in here I was talking to Stefan about how in the early '80s Minneapolis was the scene for hardcore punk with the Replacements and Hüsker Dü and how their influence was pretty much what wrote the book for a lot of modern punk and indie rock bands. And now, you guys have your own hip-hop scene with Rhymesayers, with Ant and Slug and...
Brother Ali: –These are just two of them but I would say that there's four that I'm really excited about... Actually five, but one of them is still growing. We had the punk scene in the early '80s but we also had Prince during that time with the funk, so we had like funk and punk. Prince broke through, and he was famous in Minnesota before the rest of the world knew who he was, because we support our own like that.
Omar: And he stayed in Minnesota, too.
Brother Ali: Oh yeah, he's still there. If you live in Minnesota and you're connected to the music scene somehow, you might randomly get invited to a party at his studio at 3 a.m., and come watch him perform for four hours in a private setting. Basically everybody in the hood where I lived when I moved to Minnesota, if you worked in the music industry, you had a job with Prince at some point in your career. He gave you a job, he gave something to put on your resume and gave you a career. So then we had Morris Day and the Time came behind him, and I would even say that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis kinda came on the tail end of that as well, but they're from Minnesota, produced a lot of records for Janet Jackson, huge hit songs. And then right after that we had a band that furthered that tradition, we had a band called Mint Condition. I don't know if you're familiar with them.
Brother Ali: But they're a huge band from St. Paul and R&B was enormous and right after them came a band called Next, another R&B band.
Omar: Sorta one-hit-wonders for us here, though.
Brother Ali: Next really had three hits, two as Next and R.L. had one more with Deborah Cox.
Omar: And Deborah Cox is Canadian too, I think.
Brother Ali: Really?
Omar: I think so.
Brother Ali: Wow. I had no idea. She's somebody that I'd like to see come back. Yeah so after that we had indie rock. I'm not sure if you're familiar with this band called, uh, it’s Craig Finn's band–
Omar: The Hold Steady.
Brother Ali: The Hold Steady, yeah. But they're incredible, and they're almost starting a new wave of bringing “bar rock” back. And so when this hip-hop thing started in Minnesota, I mean, we used to throw a big show at First Avenue and sell it out and live for two months off of that money.
Omar: That's the club too over there...
Brother Ali: Yeah. And I mean, P.O.S., every time that he plays First Avenue it's sold out. And now I do two nights in a row and they're both sold out. Atmosphere does four nights in a row there and it's sold out. And now the new thing in Minnesota is bluegrass. Johnny Lang is from Minnesota.
Omar: He's still around, eh?
Brother Ali: Still doing his thing. He's on tour, in fact he's touring Canada with Buddy Guy.
Omar: No way.
Brother Ali: Yeah! He's out here doing it. Mason Jennings... Neither one of those two is necessarily bluegrass, I don't think…
Omar: Johnny Lang isn’t, but Mason Jennings sorta is…
Brother Ali: …But they both a Midwestern, Iron Range kinda blue/bluegrassey kinda song. They're doing it big. Minnesota is a great, great place.
Omar: Alright, well it's great to see that because I grew up loving bands that were influenced by that '80s punk sound from Minneapolis and it's kinda cool to see how those guys kinda started that whole DIY aspect and setting their own tour circuit, and I see the same kind of similar parallels to what you guys are doing.
Brother Ali: Yeah and I mean, I gotta give the credit to that to Atmosphere and indie hip-hop artists in general who do that in that manner: Get in a van, do six shows a week, sometimes seven shows, play everywhere, don't turn down a show, ever. I think almost all of the credit should go to Atmosphere. They taught us all of that. But I mean, Slug grew up either listening to or being friends with the guys that you're talking about
Omar: Alright cool, thank you very much for coming to the station, it was really fun to talk to you.
Brother Ali: Thank you. Thanks for letting me talk, and talk and talk…