Brother Ali and BK-One Interview

Chase: “Alright everybody this is Chase March and we are lucky enough to have hip-hop legend, Brother Ali in the house. I hope you’ve been listening to DOPEfm and reading Silent Cacophony because we already brought you a full hour with Brother Ali (broken up into 4 blog posts and one podcast download)

Normally our interviews are about an hour long but Brother Ali was such a cool dude, such an awesome guy to chat with, that we kept going and going. So we got a second hour for you today. It’s not going to be all Brother Ali, we also got a chance to speak with his DJ, BK-One.

So without further ado, here is the conclusion of the interview that Gamma Krush and I did for DOPEfm. Enjoy!”

Brother Ali: “I have two musical partners. In my recorded music, it’s me and Ant that have made everything. And on the live side of things, BK-One and I have been collaborators from the very beginning. Yeah, we’ve done all our touring together for the last ten years. “

Chase: “I think you two even have a mixtape together I saw floating around called ‘Rope-a-Dope,’ what was that?”

Brother Ali: “No, no, no. There’s two mixtapes. One of them was the one we actually made and was called ‘Off the Record.’ That’s the one we made. ‘Rope-a-Dope’ is a quote-unquote mixtape that a high school kid made for a project in school.”

Chase: “Oh yeah?”

Brother Ali: “He just got a lot of songs, ya know, radio performances that were on YouTube, and he just put a bunch of random songs together, made some quick artwork, and called it a mixtape. His high school buddies liked it so much that they said, ‘You should put that online.’ Because I’m not a person that floods the Internet, as soon as that came out, all the blogs and websites jumped on it. And I didn’t realize it was a high school kid so I was pissed off.

If you listen to the one me and BK actually made, the ‘Off the Record’ mixtape, it’s thought-out, it’s mixed, there’s exclusives. It’s really well thought-out and put together. I’m actually really proud of that project we made together.”

Chase: “Yeah, I haven’t even heard that. I saw the other one.”

Brother Ali: “Yeah, and this Rope-A-Dope thing is the sloppiest, most thrown together thing, ever. I don’t operate like that. I don’t throw things together just so you can remember me. I try to make things that are so well done that you never forget them.”

Chase: “Yeah, because there was an earlier version of a track and it didn’t seem as polished. I was wondering as I was listening to that what it actually was.”

Brother Ali: “What is was happened was, I’d go into radio stations and they say, ‘Can you do a song?’ and I’d be like, ‘Yeah but I want to try out one of my new songs.’ People would record those from the radio and put them on YouTube. So, it’s me standing in a radio station performing a song. And it’s not a real version of the song. So when this popped up, I was mad. I found the guy’s email, tracked him down, wrote him this long, angry email, ‘How dare you?’ and he wrote me back, ‘Dude, I’m sorry. I’m just a high school kid’ and then I felt terrible. But, yeah, Rope-a-Dope is a high school kid’s project because he liked the music that I made.”

Chase: “That’s interesting because he pus both your names on it. It was actually credited to both you guys.”

Brother Ali: “It’s unfortunate. It’s a honest mistake on his part, I guess. But the real one to check out it is ‘Off the Record,’ that’s our real mix CD.”

Chase: “Alright, that’s nice to know, let the listeners know. They have to go check that one out, for sure, and all your albums too. ‘The Undisputed Truth,’ that was the first time I’d actually heard of you. Gamma Krush checked me on to that album. He’s like, ‘You gotta check out this guy out,’ so I became a fan from that album. And then ‘Truth is Here’ was awesome. And I love ‘Us,’ everything about that album is really good, even the artwork.”

Brother Ali: “Thanks, man”

Gamma Krush: “There’s a huge ska, reggae influence in ‘The Undisputed Truth’ album.”

Brother Ali: “Ant gets his influences from a lot of different types of music, ya know what I mean?”

Gamma Krush: “Most producers do.”

Brother Ali: “Yeah, and on that one , I think that’s just the kinds of things that I picked.”
Chase: “Alright! Well, thanks a lot for taking the time to sit down with us here. I know you’re going on the stage very shortly and I definitely looking forward to that. It’s been a long time, we’ve been waiting to get you in Canada here, man.”

Brother Ali: “I’m so happy to be here.”

Chase: “Well thanks a lot Brother Ali. It’s been an honour and a privilege. We’ll spin the title track from ‘Us’ right now and be back to talk with your DJ DJ Bk-One. Thanks a lot!”

Chase: “Alright, we’re here with BK-One now, just before he goes on stage, opening up and playing with Brother Ali in Toronto. How ya doing man?”

BK-One: “I’m really good man.”

Chase: “Nice. You actually have an album out now too.”

BK-One: “That’s right. Radio Do Canibal came out this past October.”

Chase: “Nice. We heard one of those tracks at the start of the show today. I’ve heard a few songs off that. I know Gamma Krush has been spinning some.”

Gamma Krush: “So has Daddy J.”

Chase: “Yeah, there’s some nice joints on there. So how long have you been producing?”

BK-One: “Ya know what? I’m really not a producer. I’m a DJ more than anything. But as a DJ, I have a lot of experience with buying the music and manipulating music. So this album was just an extension of that. As I’ve gotten further and further into my DJ Career, I’ve done more and more of editing and manipulating music, more and more layering, and sampling and looping. But even coming into this album, I’m not the whole package when it comes to a producer and that’s why if you look at the album cover you’ll see that it’s BK-One with Benzilla. So, all of the ideas were mine, the records were mine, and the execution of it was mine. What I needed was somebody who had the technical experience to do the programming. Benzilla is a young cat from Minneapolis who’s extremely talented and also a good friend of mine. So between my ideas and direction and his abilities, we were able to put together an album that we’re really proud of.”

Chase: “Nice! So, it’s more of a concept album though isn’t it because it’s got a unified theme to it?”

BK-One: “Yeah, all the music on it comes from samples of records that I bought out of Brazil. The sound of it and the interludes are all shaped around that as well. But I didn’t want to be a slave to the concept. I’ve done sort of artsy leaning things before and let the concept be more important than the product than the listening experience, and that’s a mistake that I think I corrected this time around. The bottom line had to be, ‘This is dope. This is something that I would want to listen to.’”

Chase: “So you really dug for the samples for this?”

BK-One: “Yeah, but when I was shopping for records in Brazil, it wasn’t with the intention of making an album, a project, or anything.”

Chase; “Oh yeah?”

BK-One: “First and foremost, I’m a fan of music. And when I went down there, just like when I go anywhere, I do a lot of traveling, especially Central and South America, everywhere I go I’m looking for records. But it’s not because each one of them is a possible project. I just like records. And Brazil was the same way. The more time I spent down there, the more music I found, and the more time I spent, when I came home, pouring through them and really digesting them, the more I realized that I’d really found something special and wanted to do something to share that with people.”

Chase: “That’s awesome because it seems like a lot of DJs or producers, even MCs are getting away from it, and really that’s kind of the backbone of hip-hop culture was taking records and looping them up and doing stuff with them. So it’s nice to see that sampling is kind of coming back right now. We’re seeing a little bit of a resurgence of it.”

BK-One: “It’s a tough time to be making sample-based music because it’s gotten so expensive. Now that vocalists are typically working with more than one producer and they’re just shopping for beats, part of what the contract has become is, ‘I’ll buy your beats but you cover clearing the sample,’ so it’s just not really financially feasible anymore. On the album, Blueprint has his own song called ‘Blue Balls’ and one of his biggest complaints is that in the modern age, it’s pretty much unaffordable to make sample-based music. And that’s why you’re seeing so many people move towards keyboards. The majority of what you see coming out of that I find, maybe it’s just ‘cause I’m old and my time in hip-hop comes from an earlier era, but it’s not a sound, for the most part, that I like. But you also see really creative things coming out of that.

There’s a young guy named Budo, who does use a little but of sampled material but he plays bass, he plays the guitar, he plays the trumpet, and finds interesting ways to manipulate all of those talents into making still quantized feeling hip-hop music that doesn’t sound like a jam band with somebody rapping over it. Hopefully, if this is going to be the way that it continues, where sample based music isn’t really financially feasible, hopefully we’ll see more stuff like that. People will find creative ways to make original music.”

Chase: “I think it’s gotten out of hand the way everyone wants to sue everyone about using a sound. I think a good producer can take a record and chop it up so it’s not recognizable. And if it’s not recognizable, how can anyone say, ‘Oh, that’s mine!’ I think it’s like a painter painting a hill. Every painter can paint the same hill and no one’s gonna say, ‘That’s my hill! I painted it first!’ So if you have a flute, and you really like the flute, and you take that and you chop it up and you do something different with it, you’ve created something new from something old, and what you’ve created distanced itself somehow. I think all this sample policing and bullsh*t that’s going on really should stop.”

BK-One: “Oh we can say ‘bullsh*t?”

Chase: “We’re an overnight show. We’re on after midnight so.”

BK-One: “Touching on what you were saying, one of the interesting things to me is, not copying recorded material but a lot of the people who get sampled and end up suing people, their music came from them stealing somebody else’s music. That’s the history of music. That’s the cycle of music. Each generation tries to copy what came before it and inevitably it turns into something new, ya know what I mean?

You’ve got extreme examples like The Rolling Stones copying lick for lick Chuck Berry’s stuff, and I’m not talking about covers, I’m talking about quote-unquote original music where it’s like, ‘Yo, they took that directly from so and so.’ But that’s just the nature of music. You emulate what you know and along the way you find your own voice and it evolves into something new. At the beginning, most hip-hop musicians didn’t have a formal education in music so they took the resources that were available to them, ya know, busted phones, making little rhymes, and their parents’ record collections and they found a way to make music out of that.

And like you said, as it’s evolved, people have found increasingly creative ways to take records, chop them up, do something new with them. On Brother Ali’s new album, a lot of the music on there started out as looped samples, but then they brought a band in and that was just the jumping off point, to the point where when you listen to the record, it’s something entirely new by the time it makes its way to the listener.”

Chase: “Definitely, with that album in particular, there’s just something about it and it just has this feel to it. It’s feel-good music and I don’t know, maybe it is the way the built off of that but it’s got a real vibe to it.”

BK-One: “Well definitely a fuller sound when you use a live band. And it gives you a lot more control in the mixing process because when you look at the most basic way sampling works, sample a drum loop, sample a music loop, put them together. When it comes time to mix the album, the bass, the guitar, the keyboard, the other sounds, it’s all on one track and there’s only so much EQing and processing you can do to it. Whereas, when they say down to mix Ali’s record, musically it was spread over all these different channels and each things gets its own treatment and the end result just sounds thicker and fuller and warmer.”

Chase: “Nice. I think we should spin one of your tracks right now.”

BK-One: “I’d like people to hear ‘American Nightmare’ which is Ali with Scarface from the Geto Boys.”

Chase: “Oh yeah, I know that one, it’s a good one. This is Chase March. Gamma Krush spin that one. Stay tuned!”

You can download the podcast to hear the entire show right now or come back tomorrow to read the conclusion. Thanks for tuning in!