Today (September 5), Brother Ali released Left in the Deck, a free collection of demo recordings that he made with Jake One while working on last year's Mourning in America, Dreaming in Color. The songs, left untouched and unmastered, are being released for free to the public with a streaming link available below courtesy of Rhymesayers Entertainment. The project will also be available for downloads with a purchase of a Brother Ali t-shirt at Fifth Element.
Brother Ali spoke with HipHopDX about the collection of songs and about the inspiration for Left in the Deck.
"A lot of times when I make songs, I make the demo," Brother Ali said in an exclusive interview with HipHopDX. "I'm in the habit of making the demo version just on a handheld mic, wherever I'm at, a two-track version of the beat, unmixed and that's especially with songs that are really about the beat and about me spittin'. Those are my favorite versions and I could never get them in the studio the way that they felt when they were just raw...I'm not thinking about polishing it or perfecting it. Sometimes there are words that are wrong here and there. But it's just really the emotion of having just written it and then spitting it right there. There have been certain times where I've never been able to recapture that [in a studio session]. So, me and Jake [One] had this collection of songs [Left in the Deck] that are just like that."
As the title suggests, Left in the Deck also hopes to make listeners feel as though they are listening to a cassette tape.
"It's meant to feel like how back in the day, we would make demo tapes," said Brother Ali, who is on tour with Immortal Technique on their "War & Peace Tour." "We would make cassette versions of albums and share them with each other. It's in that form. It's 10 songs, but it's only two tracks. So there's a Side A with five songs and a Side B with five songs. So it plays like a cassette."
While the tape-like collection will be made available for free, Brother Ali said he is proud of the effort and that it reminds him of his critically acclaimed debut album on Rhymesayers Entertainment, 2003's Shadows on the Sun.
"They're some of my favorites, of me capturing myself just spitting," Ali said of Left in the Deck. "It kind of reminds me like a radio thing...It's just spitting. You don't go back to retouch it. It's just spitting...I just feel really good about the level of spitting on this thing....I'm saying a lot on a lot of these songs and it's still me and what I talk about, but it's less about the message and more about me just having fun, rapping and trying to make bangin'-ass Rap songs.
"When [Jake One] thought we were gonna make an album together, we were just gonna start off making an album where I just spit on beats and whatever comes-up-comes-out type of thing, more like Shadows on the Sun," Ali said. "I would say this is more like Shadows on the Sun just because most of my albums have turned into this thing where I have a theme that I want to promote inside the music for that year or two while I'm on a cycle for that album or whatever. With this one, it's not like a message isn't there, but there isn't a theme or a concept I'm trying to stick to other than just making dope Rap songs."
Brother Ali Discusses Left In The Deck Songs, "Grandma And Them" & "Devil's Arms"
The songs that landed on Left in the Deck discuss a variety of topics. On this project, Ali speaks on several subjects from the business of independent Hip Hop to storytelling tracks about robberies.
"['Grandma And Them'] is one of my favorite stories that I've ever done, probably," Ali said. "It's a story about two guys that rob people for fun. It's two twin brothers and they rob people, rob stores, just having fun. And then, their grandmother that raised them gets sick, so now they're robbing a store trying to get money for her surgery. That's one of my favorite stories that I've done.
"There's a song on here called 'Rapper Thing' which is my advice for people coming up trying to have a career as an emcee," Ali continued. "It kind of walks you through the most important things. Everybody talks about all this stuff about industry and business and all of that. My approach has never been industry or business. Even my business. People always credit us for being business people. I'm not a business person. The guys at Rhymesayers are. I'm not. This is kind of like advice to people that want to do the do-it-yourself thing.
"['Phantom of the Opera'] is a really super-hard song that I actually tried to get Black Thought on for the album," Ali added. "I waited so long trying to get Black Thought on it. That's the only reason it didn't make the album, so I figured I'd take the version with all three of my verses and just release it like that.
"[Another song] is called 'Devil's Arms' and it's talking about addiction, losing people to addiction," Ali said. "I kind of touched on it on the album, but I lost my dad and I lost my friend to addiction. Both of them were related to addiction last year. So, that song on there is probably the most personal heavy one."