Brother Ali Details Relationship With Chuck D, Explains Why Kanye West & Kendrick Lamar Are Accurate Examples Of "The Hood"

Exclusive: The Rhymesayers star also discusses why the industry tampered with great "Message Rap" groups like Arrested Development, and the Minneapolis Occupy Homes initiative.

When Chuck D asked Brother Ali to feature on "Get Up Stand Up" off of Public Enemy's 2012 release, Most Of Our Heroes Still Don't Appear On No Stamp, it was a no brainer for the Minneapolis Rhymesayer. Not only was P.E. - along with Rakim and KRS-One - supremely instrumental in shaping the outlook of a teenage Ali growing into an understanding of the world around him, but over the past four years, Chuck D has become one of his mentors, inspiring not only his lyrics, but his call to activism as well. In this conversation with HipHopDX, Brother Ali details the history of his relationship with the P.E. frontman, Arrested Development and "Message Rap's" decline from the mainstream, and why artists like Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar are accurate examples of "where the hood is coming from."  

 

HipHopDX: How did your collaboration with Public Enemy on "Get Up Stand Up" come about?

Brother Ali: I became a fan of Hip Hop when I was a little kid, like seven years old. The first time I rocked on stage with a mic was when I was eight years old. In the late 1980s, [Public Enemy], Rakim, and KRS-One, those guys changed my life because they were talking about actual knowledge and freedom and stuff like that. My life changed along with that so those guys were huge influences on me and continue to be. I still listen to their music as an adult and get stuff out of it that I never understood back then.

In 2008, the local public radio station put together a bill that was "A Conversation with Chuck D" in a theater. Me and Slug from Atmosphere were the music breaks. I think Slug did one of them and I did most of them. It was like going to a commercial. So they would have this conversation with Chuck D, then they would go to a commercial and I would come out and do a song. Me and Chuck had never met at this point and I was super excited about it. It was supposed to be like two weeks after my daughter was due, but my wife didn't go into labor, and now the show is coming up. We were both really excited about it. My wife is a huge Public Enemy fan. Eventually the doctor was like, "We're going to need to induce labor. We're going to do it Saturday night." That was the night of the show. So me and my wife had this conversation where we agreed that while she was in the hospital starting labor, I'd be doing this show with Chuck D. [Laughs]

He and I showed up early and we both got to hang out and talk. It was really great. Sometimes you talk to somebody and you're already comfortable like you already know each other. That's what it was like. We just started talking immediately. My son was with me, and he started talking to my son immediately. The other thing is that my deejay had a friend in college years ago and was just in awe of this woman. He used to tell me about her all the time. She was such an incredible mind. Such an incredible spirit. Not even a crush. He just had such an incredible admiration for this person. While me and Chuck we were talking, he bumps into her backstage and he's like, "Hey, I haven't seen you in years. You moved away," because she used to go to school here. She was like, "Hey, what's up with you?" He was like, "Well, I deejay for Brother Ali now." She was like, "Oh that's crazy because I'm married to Chuck D now."

Then I started running into Chuck on the festival circuit. One of the next times I saw him after that was in Australia. Me, Slug, and Ant were performing at the festival. We're onstage and we're doing our thing and we're excited because we were about to go see P.E. afterwards. I hadn't talked to Chuck. His phone wasn't working in Australia or something. I had only hung out with him that one time. We're doing our set and we're killing it. And I turnaround and he's on the side of the stage watching us and just going crazy, jumping around! Super hype. I'm just like turned up at this point. That was probably one of the greatest performances I ever gave just because Chuck D was watching. We get off stage and he's like, "Man, you're a force of nature, man." I actually ended up writing a song on Us, that starts off with "Fact about it / I'm a force of nature." That's all from him saying that. So then we go across the street and P.E. is performing It Takes A Nation Of Millions [To Hold Us Back], the whole album front to back. And in between all the songs, Chuck is shouting us out. I'm on the side of his stage, and he sends one of the S1Ws over there and he's like, "Chuck wants you to perform. What's your favorite Public Enemy song? He's gonna bring you out." The whole crew is there. [Professor] Griff is there. Flavor Flav is there. Chuck is there. Some of the original S1Ws are there. Everybody was there except for Terminator X. I was like, "My favorite P.E. song is "Fight The Power" but this does not need me. This is perfect." So, "Fight The Power" comes on and he's like, "Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Brother Ali!" He's trying to hand me a mic but I pushed his hand out of the way and just hugged him and left stage. I was too shook to do it.

In 2009, I made the Us album and he actually recorded the intro for me, ["Brothers & Sisters"]. That was a big thing for me. I was on tour in Europe when he sent the vocals over. I was at an Atmosphere show. They were on stage and I was back stage by myself. I opened the email and it was his vocals! I'm just by myself with no one to share it with. I can't call home because it's like $2 a minute. I'm just like jumping around in the backstage room by myself. It was the most amazing thing ever.

Fast forward a little bit more to 2010. It's the year I talk about in the single, "Stop The Press." Really tough year. My great friend Eyedea died. [My] family almost broke up because I was on the road for 10 months. Just a terrible year. I ended that year by making my pilgrimage to Mecca then did a little run of shows that ended in Los Angeles. I brought my family out to L.A. for Christmas time. We don't celebrate Christmas, but it was Christmas time. We went out to Chuck and his wife's house. We hung out with them. Went out for dinner. Just spent a whole day and night with them. You know how sometimes you have these experiences with people that really touch you and are part of who you are?

DX: Yeah.

Brother Ali: It's weird. Everything that I go through. Even when I try to think about talking to him about it or complaining to him, I just know that he's been through way worse. It's like, "Man, the government's messing with me. I've got a Department of Homeland Security file on me for 'Uncle Sam Goddamn.'" This dude's had his telephone tapped, all this surveillance. If I'm like, "Man, I don't think my fans are getting it." Some of my fans, a good portion of them, understand what I'm trying to say in the music. But to a bunch of them, they just listen to it because the music's good and they aren't really focused on what I'm talking about. They don't care about the politics of it. They just like the music or the beat or whatever. I'm having fans say borderline racist stuff to me. And this is the dude that's made the most pro-Black Rap music ever and they're touring with Anthrax. There's nothing I can say. I'm telling him how my marriage is on the rocks. Public Enemy does like 40 tours throughout the year. I'm telling him how I've got this deejay that isn't calling me back for gigs. He's been dealing with Flavor Flav for 20 years. It's like anything that I think I'm going through that's difficult, he's gone through it 10 times worse.

With this song, he hit me up and he's like, "We're making a new Public Enemy album and I'd like you to be on it." I'm like obviously I would love to. He sent me the song and I did it pretty quick and sent it back. It was a huge honor to have my voice be on that record.

DX: You even move into a Chuck D cadence on "Get Up Stand Up." He has one of the most difficult to mimic flows in Rap history. You seemed to embody him in your verse on that track.

Brother Ali: Yeah. Kind of my point with that was just to talk about the legacy of message music and how the fact that I came up listening to Public Enemy and now I'm not able to be quiet about the things that I think are important. Which at the time, if you think about in the late '80s, for Chuck and what he was saying to touch me the way that it did illustrates the power of that message in music. He was in New York in a traditional Hip Hop audience but it reached outside of that. Certain things were awakened in me by that music that I still live my life by. I still live my life by principles that I got from Public Enemy that I was turned on to the first time I saw Public Enemy and KRS-One. I'm a Muslim because I read Malcolm X. I read Malcolm X because they told me to. Everything important in my life, the seed of it was planted by them.

DX: The timeline you just laid out plus P.E.'s 2010 joint, "Say It Like It Is"...

Brother Ali: Oh yeah! They put my picture in the joint! That's kind of my trinity of Rap: KRS, Chuck D, Rakim. I met KRS when I was 13 years old. I went to a lecture and asked a question and he brought me on stage. I toured twice with Rakim. He kind of cosigned me early on. And Chuck D has been nothing short of a mentor at this point. It's amazing. To be going through these struggles and know that he went through them worse and to see his life and the fact that he's still doing what he wants to do. He's still having an impact on the world. He's still relevant. And that he's happy. So many of these stories end bad, almost all of them. Almost all of the great stories end bad. To see his story...I mean it's not done. He's only 50, but you can see the trajectory of his life. I wanted to be him when I was a teenager. Now that I'm a grown man, I have that much more respect for him and I'm still looking at his life like, "Yo, that's gonna be me."

DX: What's it like having Chuck D as a mentor; to follow in that same vein? Is there any pressure associated with that?

Brother Ali: I don't see it as pressure because I chose it, or as people always say, it chose me. There's a thing when you have a calling in life that you can't ignore. It's a lot of work to pursue but it's torture to ignore it. I see it as having high standards, but I don't see it as pressure. I see it as I need to be as diligent as possible. I've moved beyond more than just making music about it and into actual activism. Like with the Occupy Homes movement in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Working together with community members and neighbors. Standing with home owners that have been foreclosed on unjustly and are being kicked out of their homes. People putting pressure on the banks; putting pressure on the authorities and then if need be, physically occupying the homes so that when the police come to throw people out, we try to deter that or try to stop that from happening. Several people have won their homes back. When we get involved, it can cost the city $30,000 to $50,0000 to evict somebody. They have to come back and bring 50 to 100 cops. They've got to arrest a bunch of people and now we're all taking our cases to trial. They offered us all plea deals so now we're going to trial. In just one of the houses for example, 37 people were arrested, including me.

DX: These are all people protesting the eviction?

Brother Ali: Yeah. Demonstrating against it and physically trying to stop it. We'll get people to lock arms around the house. You arrest somebody, somebody else steps right into that place. You can arrest people all night if you want to. For the last eight months, five or six people have won their homes. People that would've been homeless and now the bank has to renegotiate with them. These are people that want to pay their mortgages -- maybe they lost their jobs and it took them a couple months to get back on their feet. They want to start making payments again but rather than do that, the banks want to take their house, sell it, and keep all the payments that they've been getting. I'm also doing advocacy work throughout the city, working with publications that have been covering us. We're kind of the leaders in the music scene where we live so we have these great relationships with these media outlets. We've been working with them about when they cover stories about communities of color, that they're culturally competent enough to do that in a dignified respectful way. These are things that are growing out of just making music. Chuck's done stuff for Occupy Skid Row and that kind of stuff.

DX: My favorite line on the song is, "I ain't mad at evolution / But I stand for revolution."

Brother Ali:Yeah, he talks about this a lot. He has a great understanding of the corporate structure that really controls the public perception of what Rap is. He talks a lot about local radio. He talks a lot about television and the big labels and the big corporations that own all the radio and own all the television and all that kind of stuff. There was a decision in the early 1990s that Message Rap wasn't going to get a big backing anymore. Literally. You know what proved that to me more than anything else? I recently became friends with Speech from Arrested Development. If you think about their story, their album [3 Years, 5 Months, And 2 Days In The Life Of...] had like four platinum singles on it. In a situation like that, when you go back to make your second album, you should be able to write your own ticket. That was commercially viable music - very pro-Black, very spiritual, very political music. When they went back to make their next album, they were basically told, "That's not what we're doing anymore." They never fell off. They never flopped. They were a huge success. They were just done because it was decided that that's not where the industry is going. The way these kids rap is like the NBA or something. You turn on the NBA and dudes are hitting 3s behind the backboard. [Talent] is through the roof now, but you can only rap about four subjects. If you say anything that's political, they treat you like you're rude for that. Like it's bad manners or poor taste for an entertainer to say something about politics.

DX: Where does an artist like Kanye West fit, for example?

Brother Ali: I think Kanye [West has] actually been really good in terms of that. This is my opinion. I'm sure Chuck would talk to you for three hours about his opinion of Kanye. My opinion is that Kanye is a much more accurate example of where people from the hood are coming from. People from the hood like to dress nice. They like to have nice things. They like pretty women. And they also have thoughts about politics. He just kind of mixes it all together. If you look at the people that he's inspired like this whole new wave of great, incredible young rappers that are all inspired by him. Where the wave before that was all inspired by Jay-Z. So when you listen to somebody like Kendrick Lamar, you hear that, too. You hear political stuff along with everything else. You hear everything that they're dealing with. To me, that's every bit as useful as having straight up political music because not everybody is going to listen to political music. But if Kanye says, "How you stop the Black Panthers? / Ronald Reagan cooked up an answer." Just dropping that little thing is like, "Hey, we used to have these people called the Black Panthers that knew the laws; were having a real honest to God revolution; that were monitoring the police. Why aren't they hear anymore? They infiltrated them, got them hooked on drugs, turned them against each other. Just that little tiny thing in the middle of a song about whatever. The same thing with Kendrick. I hear that with Kendrick, too. All day. I think Kendrick is amazing, incredible. He's my favorite one to come along in like 10 years. There's something really special about that kid. He's got that thing. Like, you can argue that Schoolboy Q is a better rapper, but Kendrick has that thing about him. Like, when you're in a room with someone who has that thing - more than rapping, more than that other stuff. He's just got that thing.

Purchase Music by Brother Ali

RELATED: Brother Ali Explains Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color, Remembers Eyedea

61 Comments

  • flava flaaaaaav

    Mannnnn, if you clicked on this article and all you got from it was "damn that dude looks creepy" you're an idiot. If only more people knew about brother ali and how dope he really is. He's an extremely successful independent artist who gets respect from hip hop LEGENDS and he could body over half of todays mainstream hip hop artists. y'all SLEEP.

  • ziploc

    If all you got from this interview is a smart ass remark about him being an albino..wow..i could make a snappy comeback but that would make me just as ignorant to truth as these people are..wonder where you get your sense of pride from.?..a humble muslim that makes uplifting music and tells the truth..yeah you should ridicule him and worship rappers who tell you that you're nobody if you don't do drugs,spend your money on whores and aspire to be a low life drug peddling whore monger..i get the point..

  • Anonymous

    He looks like a fucking retard

  • Anonymous

    some wack people that comment on here for real.. so many of u niggaz act like the dude is ripping on everyone n shit...all dude has to say is kind n humble words..plus the people that say his album flopped? every single one of his albums have been on the charts as an independent rapper, can't do much better then that..on top of that, this guy has one of the best flows in hip hop right now, plus bars for days..this guys rhymes are not for people that like to think to much, they should stick to more elementary rappers like wayne, 2 chainz, and fake ass ross

  • asd

    Guy's face is creepy as hell. Keep your kid away from that dude.

  • common sense

    "why aren't they hear anymore?"... hear? nah.

  • Anonymous

    He's saying that Kanye has a similar perception on politics and corporate structure as most people from the "hood" would. Which I would agree with. On Kendrick, I'd disagree, but that is his opinion.

  • JOHN DOE

    Yah Brother Ali is a narcissistic idiot. The islam angle he has created for himself is borderline retarded.

  • Anonymous

    Hey Brother Ali... 'Skin check Homie" you glow in the dark

  • bobbydigital

    Wow! holy shit, It's a Giant Q-Tip!

  • x

    Malcolm X was a brilliant man and I believe that if he had not been murdered, he would have rejected Islam altogether as he rejected the false Nation of Islam. Islam, like all Abrahamic religions, is a sick philosophy that specializes in divide and conquer and the enslavement of women. Malcolm's true crime was that he could think for himself, and he could no longer kiss the ass of the NOI hierarchy even though they helped him. There's no reason to believe that Malcolm would have continued to kiss the ass of the Imams and other bloodsuckers of the mainstream Islamic hierarchy once he got past the original rush of interracial unity at Mecca.

    • Assassin221

      That sounds kind of disrespectful to Malcolm X. Whatever would have happened later it's pretty clear he was fully devoted to Islam at the end of his life. You're saying, "Well, his beliefs were bullshit but he probably wasn't serious about it, anyway." Bad attempt to try and put the man in the box you selected for him.

    • doe

      You are absolutely correct Islam whacked out Malcolm for continuing to speak publicly when they told him no, Brother Ali is a fucking idiot. He reminds me of those southern preacher scam artists. He's cooked up this Islam angle and people actually buy his stupid soulful wise man bullshit. Can;t believe Chuck D would even fuck with this contrived fraud.

  • ETK

    "You turn on the NBA and dudes are hitting 3s behind the backboard. [Talent] is through the roof now, but you can only rap about four subjects. If you say anything that's political, they treat you like you're rude for that. Like it's bad manners or poor taste for an entertainer to say something about politics." co-sign Brother Ali. niggas can't even sit still the second Lupe goes off on his political views. and because he does a lot of that, suddenly he's "preachy" and up his own ass. but all them niggas here hatin are NOT preachy at all. no no no. they're not the ones lambasting every damn rapper under the circuit, tellin em who they can and can't collabo with, and how their older shit is 100% better than the new shit bunch of punk ass hypocrisy goin round hip-hop... but no it's never their fault, it's always YMCMBs

  • BIGG HOMIEE LOCC DOGG

    "brother ali" is a fraud.. a white albino from minnesota that thinks hes black... he calls kanye "hood">>>which is an INSULT 2 the HOOD... he wears an amerikkkan flag to bed with him at night... he is a C.I.A. informant...

    • Andrew

      Yo how is Kanye an insult to the hood? Kanye has been one of the best rappers out for like ten years now. Kanye isn't HARD but since when is every body form the hood HARD? Kanye is suppossedly middle class or whatever but Ive met plenty of people from the hood like Kanye. Smarten Up.

    • bob

      haha your such a lame!

    • de negus

      more papes than u negus

  • X drop BOMBS like Nagasaki

    Ah, hell nah Cuh! Sumbody betta talcC ta thiz Wi66a! On da fa rilla, dude a st6 up Clown, fucc outta here wit dat BULLChit...Hood nukkaz is dem who started in da 80's early 90's, nukkaz nowadayz is Hoezz....specialy KanGay...Real Hood is Dub-C....WEST SIIIIIDE!!!

  • zamieo

    Schoolboy Q is a better RAPPER than Kendrick? Really? Have you listened to Kendrick's flows, his breath control, his rhymes? He's miles ahead of Q. Jay Rock is better than Q and Ab-Soul when it comes to rapping.

  • Bizzalls

    Brother Ali, shave that shit the fuck off your chin, clown. Second of all, Kanye's not even from the hood, WTF r u talkin about? What is this albino FUCK talkin about?

  • Anonymous

    Kanye hood. LOL. The hood thought he was gay.

  • ItsTheTruth

    Boring, no charisma, and that's why he's underground. Only stands out cuz he's albino. Him and Skyzoo should do a collab album so I can have something to help me fall asleep to. Someone tell them and their hip-hop nerd fanbase that lyrics can only take you so far. It's about making "good sounding music" too.

  • MMG Uncut

    This boy mad cause his albums flop and he broke & can't afford a decent vehicle to pick up dimes. Ross would never sign such a boring loser.

  • Anonymous

    like Carolyn implied I am taken by surprise that any one able to get paid $6102 in a few weeks on the internet. did you read this web link (Click on menu Home more information) http://goo.gl/LG4oH

  • TaZzZ

    The more I look at this comments section the more it makes me love Brother Ali. They hated Malcolm, they hated Gandhi, and the world will continue to hate all those who push the limits of our narrow interpretation of life.. He is who he is and not who anyone else wants him to be. Everytime I read an interview by him it makes me go back and revisit his catalog because his mind is truly inspiring. He was raised by the black community and was crafted within that culture so how can he come out and deny that piece of himself simply because of his skin color? He's saying that he found common solidarity with those who were similarly oppressed and outcasted by the majority (white america) because being Albino keeps him from fitting that mold. This man stretches the boundaries of social, economic, racial and political thinking in our world and I personally know several people who he has changed through his music and his thoughts. Anyone that inspirational shall never die... Keep on trucking Brother Ali, those who get it will always stand behind you until the end

    • Assassin221

      Malcolm didn't quit Islam, he quit the Nation of Islam which really isn't Islam at all. And I'm not with everything Ali says and does but how is he fraudulent or a scam artist? If nothing else he seems like one of the most genuine dudes out there, says exactly what he feels.

    • Anonymous

      There is no such thing as a good or bad path. just a path. the rest is interpretation idiot.. Brother Ali is just a boring scam artist rapper. And to bring him up in the same sentence as Malcolm X is a joke. Malcolm wouldn't have any respect for some fraudulent white islamic idiot. In fact he was quitting Islam before THEY killed him. And brothers still fall into the Islam scam just because they 'ACCEPT" them. Fools.

    • Anonymous

      No he did not compare them, did you even read his comment, he aluded to them as an example of a good path brother Ali is taking. You really need to 'read a book' Good point Taz.

    • Read A book Nigga

      TaZaZ---- Did u just compare Brother Ali to Malcom X and Ghandi! I have seen some DUMB SHIT on HHDX but this has to be up there with the dumbest most ignorant post in history! U need an education homey!! WOW!!!

  • Anonymous

    brother ali isnt from the hood and hes a fraud. when brother ali first came out he said he was a black albino. then his album sold well independently and ppl started tracing his story. turns out hes white. he is albino. now brother ali says "i always thought i was black due to being albino, and i was raised predominantly by a black family" in minnesota? really? prove it. complete clown. how he got away with it is beyond me. and whatever happened to making music that made you feel good? public enemy had a nation of followers, they had influence. brother ali has a small niche following. make some entertaining music and save the debate for another arena you boring dolt. fuck brother ali. brother ali has talent but he thinks hes more important than he really is. all this policital, social commentary from a guy that lied about being a black albino.

    • bob

      visit north minneapolis and tell me that shit aint hood. got fist yourself bud.

    • ....

      if anybody believed this dude was a black albino, then they're fucking retarded. Black Albino's have black facial features, these dude has none of those; not being racist but the nose and the lips are a dead giveaway.

    • Anonymous

      you need yo get your facts straight before being stupid fool

    • TaZzZ

      Those who don't truly believe they are more important than the world perceives them will never rise to their full potential

  • bmoc

    I have a couple of Brother Ali's albums and I want to get the upcoming one..but all the politic talk is annoying me, and 90% of the time I dont agree with what hes saying...imo I just dont like politics in my music

  • Anonymous

    "Why aren't they hear anymore? " sweet editors bro

  • Anonymous

    fuck this white boy

    • bizzalls

      This last clown who posted a comment said "in the words of Kendrick Lamar, ignorance is bliss." You absolutely stupid fuck, like he was the first person to say that phrase, you fuckin dummy, hahaha....MORON.

    • Anonymous

      damn dude its obvious a white boy acting like he black to get white guys like yourself pumped up and it work. You sir have been trolled. When will you all learn to ignore ignorance. In the words of Kendrick Lamar ignorance is bliss

    • Anonymous

      ^^^FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING FUCK!!!! Brother Ali is prolly one of the most insightful people in the game... And I can actually say that because I've actually sat down and talked with him for a cool hour, just the two of us. He's wody, has a lot to say, and honestly, says his shit well. Of course you'd be the variety of fuck boy who talks shit without reading the article just because dude is albino and white. But wait, that's just your #niggalogic kickin in, so I guess can't blame you and your inability to transcend your idiotic rhetoric and way of thinking.

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