On Sunday, September 30, Rhymesayers Entertainment's Brother Ali and his live band took the stage at The Annex Wreckroom in Toronto while on tour for his new album Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color.
As expected, the crowd reacted enthusiastically to Ali's inspiring presence. The mood of the room changed instantly when he took the stage and began performing a mix of songs from his new album MIDAC as well as his older tracks.
Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color has seen a lot of success for Ali and the team he has backing him up at Rhymesayers. And, might I add, his team is incredible. Everyone that I spent time with both prior to the show and at the venue, like tour manager Paul Wichhman, the director of marketing and publicity Jake Schaefer, the opening artists and Ali's band members were all down-to-Earth people which makes them a company that I am proud to work with. Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color has so much support that it even matched his most popular album, Undisputed Truth in 2007.
"You could argue that it was more successful. The most successful album that we had before that was Undisputed Truth-- that's when I was considered new, hot and interesting," Ali says to which I reassure him, "you are still hot and interesting."
Ali laughs and says, "I mean this is five years later. It's ten years since my first album, or coming up on ten years and we sold the same number," Ali explains, "But, in a declining music industry, you almost have to adjust it for inflation. So in terms of like the billboard charts, in terms of where it's sold compared to other things, we actually have grown since my most popular, my most successful one. So, this might be the most successful one, or it's at least equal."
Ali has been in the industry for close to ten years which is a rarity in music. "It feels good because not many musicians get to last ten years and then in hip hop, that's a new thing now that we are able to do that, you know what I mean? Especially being independent and especially to not take a dip. Anything new when it starts out is really really hot and successful and it trails off after that. Our music has not taken a dip. We've grown, which is incredible. Every time I think about that it feels really good."
As many supporters of hip hop music know, unlike Brother Ali, the industry is over run by meaningless lyrics and unimpressive music with a catchy beat which many listeners blame on mainstream music. Ali, an underground and independent artist, has always remained level-headed and ensured that his lyrics were personal, genuine and made all attempts to enforce social change. He even takes a few breaks from his performance to discuss some of his thoughts and ideas about society and how we can make a difference.
When asked if he thinks that signing with a mainstream label would have affected his music, instead of signing with Rhymesayers with the guidance of fellow artist Atmosphere, Ali says "It's hard for me to imagine that. You know what I mean? That's like saying if I could fly, how would that affect you? That never was an option for me."
The crowd was pleased to learn that Ali even took a live band on tour with him to enhance the musical experience. The band played instruments such as keyboards, flutes and brass.
"I mean DJs are incredible too. I had the same DJ for ten years. If you can get a really good DJ I believe that one DJ can be as powerful as a band but it's very rare that you can do that," Ali says.
Ali Newman, better known by his stage name Brother Ali, is an American hip hop artist signed to Rhymesayers Entertainment. | Photo: Archives |
The show was shortly delayed due to boarder security problems that Ali describes as an unfortunate, corrupt sort of thing. "We had a really messed up day," Brother Ali said in our interview which felt more like a casual conversation because of Ali's kind character. "I mean we had to rush in. The boarder was bad to us. They arrested one of us and two of us didn't get in. We were supposed to have a bigger band than what we had. I mean it's bad, it's just bad. They treat you bad. Every time we come in they just treat you like a criminal, like an ATM, like a cash machine. It's every genre of music. They just do that. It's an unfortunate corrupt thing," Ali says.
After the show, I spoke with the band member who was taken into custody at Canadian customs. He explained that he was held for 4 hours due to a misunderstanding. "When you're in jail, time means nothing. It's obsolete. It stands still," he said in his description of the delay, "I just meditated."
An incredibly talented and humorous band member, Bill Titus, sat with me on stage for a while after the show discussing the boarder issues, the tour, his experiences and Brother Ali himself. "He is very intelligent," Titus said before I met up with Ali again for my interview. Titus and I agree that he can credit much of his knowledge to Islam'not simply the religion itself but the fact that Ali made an independent decision to convert when he was a teenager instead of following the trend. He had his own ideas of spirituality and embraced that. It's easy enough to inherit your religious beliefs from your family, to carry on what they have planned for you, but it takes knowledge and courage to break free of that and chose your own path.
"Uncle Sam Goddamn" Controversy
[A Wikinote] Brother Ali has been under pressure from the recording industry due to lyrics from his song "Uncle Sam Goddamn", claiming creative interference from "somebody I don't wanna name, but some of you probably has their cell phones." The unnamed corporation ultimately withdrew its sponsorship of Ali, causing him to truncate parts of his 2007 tour. Furthermore, on the song "Second Time Around" with Benzi and Wale, Ali makes references to being kicked off a tour followed by the line "Verizon dissed me too, cuz I was too political." The song is notably critical of the United States government, with accusations that the political system is addicted to war.
How black people have played a major role in his life: My genes tie me to those that despised me/ Made a living killing the ones that inspired me/ I ain't just talking about singing and dancing/ I was taught life and manhood by black men/ So I'm a product of that understanding/ And a small part of me feels like I am them... | Brother Ali, Ali Newman, Hip Hop, Music, Beard, Army, War,