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Hip Hop artist 'Brother Ali' Making sense out of society’s racial and cultural confusion

By Ashahed M. Muhammad -Asst. Editor- | Last updated: Jun 4, 2012 - 9:19:47 AM

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(FinalCall.com) - Though hip-hop has grown globally embracing all races and ethnicities, it is dominantly viewed as an external representation of Black culture.

In the opinion of many, this growth also caused hip-hop to lose some of its cutting-edge originality and watered-down the bold, courageous and scathing social commentary that made rappers the undisputed voice of youth and activism.

Minneapolis-based rapper Brother Ali knows this very well, and with song titles like “Uncle Sam Goddamn,” “Self Taught” and “Freedom Ain’t Free,” Brother Ali’s political and ethical sensibilities are clear. His cultural roots are buried deep within the Black community who unconditionally embraced him during his youth, and the religion of Islam, which he embraced in his teens.

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“I was raised by Black folks for the most part and the people who taught me to be a man—being an albino, being different or being an outcast—the people who taught me what I needed to carry myself with confidence and pride and believe that I have a place in this earth is the American Black man because nobody knows more about how to maintain that within the human soul than the American Black man.”

During his youth, he had a few White friends, but his peers were mainly Black. Those friends, and some teachers, and elders motivated him to increase his level of self-esteem and self-determination.

“There was a woman that worked in my school when I was in elementary school and she saw me because I would sit by myself all the time,” Brother Ali recalled. “She sat down with me she told me what I imagine she told her own children. That you can’t wait for people to tell you that you are worth something. You need to build yourself into something that you feel is worthwhile and you need to base your self-esteem on that. My peers were the same way.”

Like many at that time, during a point in his early teens, he was drawn to the beauty of graffiti art and the power of hip-hop culture and knew he wanted to be a part of it.

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Brother Ali
“In the mid-80’s I was attracted to just the people and the sound of the music and the graffiti art and the lifestyle but in the late ‘80s when production took a huge jump and lyricism took a huge jump, this is when men like my friend Chuck D started talking—KRS-One and Rakim—they all started telling us about people like Minister Farrakhan and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X so we started reading,” Brother Ali recalled. “Hip-hop changed not just the way we were partying, but changed the way we lived and the kind of men we wanted to grow up to be.”

The politically charged, often rebellious lyrical content—seemingly ubiquitous in hip-hop at that time—inspired him to learn about Malcolm X, which carried him further on a journey of self-discovery.

“I read his autobiography and that’s when it started me to want to become a Muslim,” he continued, “and that time period of lyricism is what made me know that I had to be an MC.”

The strength of his political convictions and his continued development are evident when listening to his consistently reflective lyrical content. His forthcoming release titled, “Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color” is scheduled for August.

“I ended up becoming a Muslim and I studied under Warith Deen Mohammed, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s son. I was taught and it was put in me from the time I was 15 when I became a Muslim until now—I have a picture of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad in my home. We are taught to always respect him, to respect his life. I know that—even me—I am a Muslim because of what he established,” said Brother Ali. “I teach my children and we have the utmost, highest respect for him.”

Brother Ali was saddened at the Imam’s passing back in 2008. He remembers standing next to Minister Farrakhan at the janazah prayer service at Imam Mohammed’s funeral.

“I saw tears on his face,” said Brother Ali, who has attended Saviours’ Day before. He said he has great respect for Minister Farrakhan and recalled how glad he was to see the Minister and Imam Mohammed grow closer toward the end of his life.

He said the Imam was always kind to him, even sending him on a trip with other Muslim students to study in Malaysia back in 1997.

“Imam Warith Deen Mohammed always made a point (since) I looked so different he always made a point to come speak to me,” he said.

He is aware that the way he looks, his worldview, and the way he sounds may throw people off a bit, however, he enjoys taking people out of their comfort zones, using his popular Twitter feed to raise important questions, drawing them into discussions that could change the way they see the world.

Although he does not expect any accolades, he does expect his posts on topics such as racism and police brutality to stimulate conversations, especially among his White fans, who love hip-hop.

“Because of the way I look, people who look like me are the first contacts that gravitate towards me because culturally, people are very scared, especially culturally—White folks are scared,” said Brother Ali. “They see something and they appreciate it but they don’t feel like being a part of it until they feel safe.”

He will continue to inform and educate using thought-provoking lyrics such as those delivered in his appearance with Chuck D and Killer Mike on Immortal Technique’s intensely powerful track “Civil War.”

“A lot of people that grow up in White areas, they don’t have any clue,” said Brother Ali. “They don’t even understand how difficult life is in America and the world when you are not White. It’s like a comic book in their minds,” he added.

(Visit Brother Ali’s website @ www.brotherali.com. There you can view his writings, and hear some of his songs which are also available through iTunes and Amazon.com. A tour schedule of upcoming appearances is available @ www.rhymesayers.com/brotherali.)

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