As a close associate within the Native Tongues circle by the tender age of 13, Chi-Ali (real name Chi Ali Griffith) had all the makings of a dominant rapper in 1991. His debut album, The Fabulous Chi-Ali, would debut the next year and subsequently solidified the notion that he was the future of the Native Tongues crew.
Somewhere during the Native Tongues demise in the mid ’90s though, Griffith fell into the background and off the radar of Hip Hop music. Ali would find himself in the spotlight again in 2000, but not for the right reason. During a verbal dispute with his estranged girlfriend over child support, Chi-Ali was confronted by her brother and a heated argument ensued, leading Ali to shoot and kill Sean Raymond.
Currently serving a 14-year prison sentence for the murder of Raymond, Chi-Ali recently spoke to Prisonpenn.com about his emcee start, his one and only album The Fabulous Chi-Ali, and what he thinks about Hip Hop now.
Reminiscing about his short rap career, Chi-Ali explained the first time he got put on before a performance with Queen Latifah and the Jungle Brothers at The Apollo. “I was chillin’ with Baby Chris [Lighty] and the Jungle Brothers, but Afrika from the Jungle Brothers had missed a flight in London, so they was putting together how they were gonna pull off the show. I was like, ‘Let me rhyme.’ They asked, ‘You can rhyme?’ So I kicked a few rhymes, and they like, ‘Aight, you not gonna be scared right?’ I said, ‘Naw I’m not gonna be scared.’ Of course I was scared, but I had to show face. And that’s what gave Chris [Lighty] the idea of running with me.”
At a very young age, the possibility of Ali writing a full album by himself would not have been possible. With that said, Chi-Ali noted that The Fabulous Chi Ali had a handful of Native Tongue emcees behind the lyrics he rhymed. “For the first album, I wrote about 40% of it. [The rest] was Dres [of Black Sheep], De La [Soul], Q-Tip [click to read] and Phife [click to read]. The Beatnuts have of wrote something too; they also produced the whole album.”
Though Ali has been out of the game for a while, he still keeps up to date on what’s happening in Hip Hop. When asked what he thinks it takes to make it now, Ali made the point of networking with your peers. “I think coming into the game [these days] it’s definitely more of who you know. If you ultra-nice, that helps; that will get the right people listening. But you see so many artists lyrically that aren’t that great, and they still wind up flourishing because they know the right people…The industry is so saturated now, and everybody rhymes. Just being good ain’t enough.”