On Thursday I had the pleasure of doing a phone interview with Brother Ali. The legendary rapper will be in town this Saturday playing a show with Danny Brown, Prof, Evidenve, MTHDS, DJ Abilities and more at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom. I asked my friend (and huge Brother Ali fan) Danny Maurer to sit in and be my “featured interviewer” for this phone call. We had a great time talking with this acclaimed rapper, and got some great answers about life on the road, inspirations, spirituality, and his new album Mourning America and Dreaming In Colour.
(BA will signify Brother Ali’s responses in this conversation, and DM will represent Danny, our phone interviewee).
DM: So, how is tour going?? Does being such a family man make it hard for you to spend so much time out on the road?
BA: Well, I used to tour a lot more, but this year I’ve cut back. Just wanted to slow down. I used to go 6-10 months a year, I toured through all of my twenties, but it was taking too long to make new music, (it) got to be too much. (My family) is a big part of the reason as to why I’ve become little more selective with road dates.
DM: So, in this time that you spend out on the road, do you get a lot of writing done?
BA: It’s hard to just zone out and “create”. When I’m on the road I’m just not able to focus in that way. There’s a lot of downtime and you think it’d be good, but it’s hard for me. I can make beats on tour and I read a lot on tour, but I don’t really write.
DM: On the new record, it sounds like there’s a lot more live instrumentation than there’s been in the past. What kind of band are you touring with?
BA: I just wanted to have a new touring situation for this, so I made a record that would fit that. (On my) last touring cycle there was a full horn section, guitar player, and keys. This weekend (i’ll) be with just a DJ.
DM:What is some of the inspiration behind the new album?
BA: It’s social commentary. A lot of military stuff, economic stuff.
DM: What’s it like being a person of faith in modern-day hip hop? Do your peers in hip hop treat you differently because of your faith?
BA: Art and spirituality are very close to each other. Real artists and real spiritual people get along really well. There’s people that don’t understand art that deny spirituality, that just use art in a colonial way. Those are people that don’t relate to spirituality. They don’t understand music either...they resonate in the same place when you’re engaged properly and honestly. People that don’t want to engage in spirituality don’t relate to music. It’s not just the topic of the lyrics...there are people that make religious lyrics but the music isn’t spiritual at all. There’s a lot of music where the theme or the music might be dark, but the pain in it is spiritual. It’s not always about what the theme of the words on paper are. There are people that are rappin’ about cars and all the women in their cars that are beautiful, but there’s pain behind that. There’s growing up in the richest country in the world and not having access to that. I hear spirituality in Jay-Z and Little Wayne.
DM: What kind of music inspires you? Or what other artists do you listen to?
BA: I’m inspired by all of it, all parts of hip hop. I started listening to hip hop in the mid-80‘s. I think Jay-Z is the greatest rapper ever. I listen to a lot of soul music, R&B, Gospel, also rock music. I listen to Soul and Blues and Jazz the most.
DM: Is there anything important you want fans to know about?
BA: Just about the (new) album. Sometimes it feels like when you’re not new anymore, people stop paying attention. There’s so much music and so many people that are new...when a artist is new they get a little bit more attention. You start feeling like people are saying “you put out good music, yeah, that’s what you’re supposed to do!”. I’ve been rapping since I was 8. It’s what I am, it’s what I do.
If you wanna hear more from Brother Ali, including some songs off of his new album, be sure to join us on Saturday night at Cervantes. Hope to see some fans there.