Photo credit: Adam Stanzak
, who will be at Paper Tiger with Atmosphere and others January 18, is an uncommonly thoughtful rapper — really, an uncommonly thoughtful person.
An activist, a devout (and progressive) Muslim, a father, and a member of the highly-influential Minneapolis hip-hop label Rhymesayers Entertainment, Brother Ali uses his music to address topics like spirituality, class struggle, social justice, media manipulation, racism, and the universal human struggle to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives. Even among others who get assigned to the "conscious hip-hop" sub-category, Ali shines as a beacon of hope and critical thinking, as an advocate for true understanding, empathy, and equality.
With Ali is set to perform in SA just two days before the Inauguration of President-Elect Donald Trump, and with national frustrations/anxieties at (justifiably) high levels, I spoke with the rapper, sincerely looking for some light. True to form, Ali came at me from a whole different angle than I'd expected.
Ali's most recent album, 2012's Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color
, now seems uncannily prescient in its rejection of false hope and scathing criticism of nearly all aspects of America society. Ali now says he "didn't learn anything new" from Trump's election or the shit-show leading up to it. "The idea that things are suddenly worse is perpetuated by the media for ratings," he said. "We've been headed this direction for a long time now."
Ali says it's "basically impossible to get an actual grip on reality from TV" because "you're literally being lied to at every moment." Still, he admitted that, outwardly, "things will get really bad" under President Trump, who he says certainly presents "the worst face" to America and the rest of the world.
Ali, however, sees Trump's election as an important wake up call for "people who were still living under the illusion of the American dream," rather than a herald of the apocalypse. In his estimation, "it's only people who are part of the dominant culture" who are surprised by the American reality that Trump's campaign and subsequent election exposed. "Welcome to the real world," Ali says to people who are newly horrified, "you're joining your neighbors now."
The silver lining then, in all of this, is that "having your heart broken is a good thing if it's part of an awakening." While stressing the need for "empathy with the dominant culture," Ali explained that he sees whiteness and its corrosive effects as "a kind of prison created for lower class European descendants." When white America, specifically poor white America, sees the "veil being lifted" and becomes enlightened to the fact that "they are being oppressed too," then real, positive change will become possible.
When this veil is lifted, Ali believes that we will see a renewed interest in "ancient wisdom" as gleaned from the wisdom literature of the world. Far from being one-sided in this, or preachy in the least, he interprets this spiritual turn as a simple recognition that "we are not just living in some material accident."
Brother Ali feat Atmosphere, deM atlaS, Plain Ole Bill, Last Word
$25.00, Wed, Jan 18, 7:00pm, Paper Tiger, 2410 N St Mary's St, papertigersa.com.