The 2016 Presidential election may have transpired months ago, but the topic remains fresh on the minds many. Rapper Brother Ali, one hip-hop’s more staunch voices when it comes to sociopolitical issues, shares his disdain for Donald Trump’s politics, particularly his divisive and racially-charged rhetoric.
“We’ve got somebody in fice that’s actively like a hate-cho,” Brother Ali states as he relaxes on a couch in the XXL fice, before mimicking Trump’s discriminatory tirades. “‘I’d kill you if I could, I’d keep you out this country at all costs, I’ll spend a billion dollars getting rid you.'”
Having flown in from Minneapolis earlier that day, the Rhymesayers Entertainment artist may have appeared to be a bit fatigued, but visibly perked up when lamenting how the current climate in America shouldn’t influence people to adopt the teachings and tactics the oppressor.
“It’s real easy in a time like this to be like, ‘Yeah, we’re fighting against them,’ and that’s real, that’s very real,” Ali explains, before adding, “but I’d say along with that, we’re not fighting them just ’cause we’re us and they’re them. We’re fighting them based on the virtue that that’s hateful and oppressive. So we have to fight that within ourselves by being loving and liberating.”
The fight that Brother Ali speaks is a battle which he has personally endured during his five-year hiatus, a period spiritual reflection that was devoid any album releases from the notoriously terse lyricist.
With his last album, Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, having dropped in 2012, Brother Ali is looking to continue his streak critical acclaim with his forthcoming album, All the Beauty in This Whole Life. Slated to be released on May 5, All the Beauty in This Whole Life is the culmination a spiritual trek that has taught him that there is perfection to be found on the other side ego and insecurity, which is one the many lessons the indie maven is looking to share on this LP.
XXL sat down with Brother Ali to get the scoop on his hiatus, what inspired him to return back to the music scene, his new album and the impact that spirituality has on his life.
XXL: In the past, you’ve referenced a quote that says “In times great suffering, the most important battles start from within.” Where did that quote come from or what inspired it?
Brother Ali: I actually wrote that quote. I come from a background both community organizing and activism, and then also spirituality. And the people, both individuals and movements, that inspire me the most are ones that have a deep spiritual element to it.
It’s been five years since the release your last album, Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color? What was the reason for the hiatus?
I think I went through a period where I was just tired doing it. And not tired the music part, but tired the business part. And then, I’m a sensitive person; that’s how you make art, you can’t make art if you’re not sensitive. I don’t care who you are, if you’re crating art, you’re a sensitive person. So all the weird stuff about making music and being what people consider being a entertainer, sometimes that stuff just hurts my feelings and I don’t feel like doing it.
It’s not the music, it’s not performing, it’s not the fans, but it’s all the other stuff. I’m not trying to beg anyone to care about me or think that what I’m doing is valuable, but every time I get in these situations, I always feel that. I feel like I’m supposed to be competing with creative people. If I’m not competing with people, it feels like I’m corny if I’m not. And if I’m not trying to get a leg up and always get the best looks or do it bigger and better than everyone else, then it’s almost like I’m a traitor or something like that. It’s almost like I’m betraying what this means and I see it the other way, I don’t see it like that at all and I don’t feel like doing that.
It’s a different scale, but I think it’s similar to what Dave Chappelle was experiencing, what Lauryn Hill experienced. A lot people, we do this because we’ve inherited this ancient ability and art telling stories and talking about meaning and connecting people in life—this is what it’s really all about. You can have a million pop songs, but if you have a song that makes people feel something, that’s when you become huge.
How are some the ways you occupied your time during that period? Where you just sitting in the mountains or something?
Some the time, yeah laughs]. I still performed and toured, so a lot those times where it would look like it’s time f, I still did 80 shows or something, you know what I mean? Immortal Technique, he hasn’t put music out in a long time either and he tours heavier than anybody and gets bigger crowds. That’s the thing, it’s such an illusion. Some the people you would think is way more famous than Immortal Technique, they have one year where they’re doing stuff, and thy may get to stadium status, but most ’em don’t get to stadium status who thinks they’re hot.
So I’ll be in a space and there’s people and it’s like, “Here comes this little underground guy,” but then there’s someone else and it’s like “This is what’s hot.” And they might do what they’re doing for a year or maybe even two years or something like that, but literally, if you look at someone like Immortal Technique, his tours are sold out, all across the country. You go to his shows and see what he means to people.
But I spent a lot my time really trying to take this spiritual path seriously so being with teachers and being with the people the spiritual path that are taking it seriously. So when you talk about sitting in the mountains, honestly, if you open up the artwork for this album, there’s pictures me sitting on a mountain, and that’s part it. And some these songs I wrote in straight up silence. The people spirituality will tell you you have to dedicate some time to being alone and being silent. So the first single, “Own Light,” I actually wrote that in complete silence. In that time “you’re not supposed to read or listen to anything or writ, so I wrote that whole song inside my hart and then when I came back, I was like “OK, I have it.” I had the music already, but I knew the song would eventually come. I wasn’t listening to the track when I wrote it, didn’t have a pen and paper, literally, that song just came into my heart. and I was in the mountains at that time too.