Missed Part 1 or Part 2? Go back and read them. And don’t forget to download the podcast for free. The podcast contains the entire hour’s interview and you only need to download that once to hear it. I only break the transcripts up into separate parts because they are a little too long to put it all into one blog post.
Without further ado, here is Part 3 of the interview transcript.
Chase: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been popping up on quite a few records here and there. You’ve been getting guest appearances and things like that, so is there anybody you haven’t worked with yet that you’d really like the opportunity to?”
Brother Ali: “There’s three of them and I’ll give it to you in order of how bad I want to do it. I want to work with ?uestlove more than anything in the world cause I think that we would make something that’s never been made before in any kind of music but especially in rap. We would make something truly incredible. He’s very busy and he’s got things much better to do with his time but in my heart of hearts, that is what I’d like.
I’d like to do something with Cat Stevens, his name is Yusuf Islam now. I think that would be really beautiful. And Johnny Winter.”
Chase: “I’m not familiar with Johnny Winter.”
Brother Ali: “Johnny Winter is an albino guy from down south, from Texas who studied the blues and fell in love with the blues and became one of the great blues guitarists and singers. And he was from a generation younger than the guys considered the golden age guys like Son House and Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters, but they actually embraced him. And he ended up producing some of Muddy Waters later albums and touring together and things like that. He’s still out here performing and he’s really incredible. Me and him just have so much in common. I really don’t ever have to make anything with him, I just want to meet him, talk with him, and learn from him.”
Chase: “Very cool. Have you ever ghostwritten?”
Brother Ali: “Yes. I ghostwrote a song called ‘Original Prankster’ for my son who was six years old at the time and its on me and BK-One’s mix CD called ‘Off the Record.’ And if you look in the Internet, there’s a battle MTV filmed an aired where my son Faheem is battling my bog brother Slug from Atmosphere and legend has it that I might have had something to do with the verses he says against my friend Slug.”
Chase: “That’s awesome.”
Brother Ali: “But I would really like to do it. There’s been times where I’ve though about asking Slug to write something for me. I would do something that he wrote for me. But one of the things I like about rap and hip-hop is that the writing is an integral part of it. So it not’s just to say how well can you say this rhyme but the mind that wrote that, along with the voice that’s saying it, and that persona and all that. It’s a very special powerful thing that we have within hip-hop. And you can communicate more within hip-hop. maybe, is some ways, than you can with any other genre of music.”
Chase: “Yeah, I think so too. We can almost say a lot more than different genres because pop radio, they seem to be love songs most of the time, maybe country music because they can tell different kinds of stories. But I think hip-hop does have more latitude there when it comes to content.”
Brother Ali: “Well, when it comes to hip-hop, it’s a music based on incorporating other genres of music. So musically, every type of music is in hip-hop. Country is in hip-hop, blues are in hip-hop, jazz is in hip-hop, funk is in hip-hop, soul, latin music, African music, ya know, everything is in hip-hop musically.
If you write out the lyrics to a hip-hop song it’s three pages long, whereas the average pop song can be written on one napkin. Now there’s a case to be made on the other end too that when words are gone like in jazz music. Within jazz music, the way that the horn sounds or the choices that are made there communicate on a more profound plane. So you can make the case either way. But when you’re just talking about lyricism and verbally communicating, no other type of music beats hip-hop.”
Chase: “I think so too. One of the interesting discussions I’ve had on my blog, and I have like a hundred comments on this post, is that rap is not music. I wrote that post in response to a discussion I had with a fellow teacher who told me that rap music is an oxymoronic term because rap isn’t music. I’d like to hear what you have to say on this topic.”
Brother Ali: “Every great form of music started off with people who didn’t really relate to it and didn’t understand it, saying that it wasn’t music. Every great form of music. They said, jazz wasn’t music and jazz is actually the most innovative and creative music ever in the history of the world. They said that blues wasn’t music. They said that rock and roll wasn’t music.
I guarantee that whoever said that, whatever music they think they love, ‘cause you don’t say something like that unless you have a disconnect with what music is. But whatever music they think they love, the most authentic form of it was called ‘not music’”
Chase: “That’s cool, ‘cause I don’t think we actually think about that. Like Elvis and The Beatles and jazz and people are still saying that the Beatles are amazing but when they came out they were controversial and people were-”
Brother Ali: “And if you look at what music The Beatles were emulating, what music Elvis was emulating and in some cases stealing-”
Gamma Krush: “Black soul music and blues”
Brother Ali: “All those guys were really inspired by blues and the artists themselves revered the blues and were so inspired by it, the great ones were. And then you got guys that were just stealing it and living it up and really loving the fact that you could steal black music and just redo it based on the fact that you’re white was why people would love it and support it and call you great. But you had great people like Elvis and like The Beatles in particular and they were just inspired by it and wanted to add to it. They just wanted to participate in it.
But, yeah, The Beatles were called not music. People definitely were not respecting people like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters and Son House and Alvin Wolf and the people that they were inspired by. So you can’t spend a lot of time worrying about people that don’t understand what you’re doing.”
Chase: “Yeah, I think one of the major misunderstandings of it is that people say there is no melody to rap. But I argue that flow is kind of melody. I mean, rappers aren’t monotone. Your voice is still going up and down.”
Brother Ali: “Well, there’s a variety and you can say that some hip-hop doesn’t have much musical value. In particular a lot of underground hip-hop doesn’t have much musical value in my mind. I think that Ludacris has a lot more musical value than a half a dozen underground superstars that I can name. But these are people that don’t understand what they’re hearing and all you can do is wish that their lives would be enriched by this beautiful thing, but what are you gonna do. I’m sure they get joy out of a lot of things that I would have difficulty finding joy in.”
Chase: “So you’re touring like crazy and I always like to ask this question to people who are on long tours, ‘What are you reading right now? Did you bring a book with you?’”
Brother Ali: “Ya know, it’s tough for me to read on tour. It’s tough for me to read in general because I’m legally blind. So I read really slow. My eyes move really slow but my brain is really fast so my brain gets really frustrated with me eyes when I try to sit down and read something. And when I’m on the road, it’s damn near impossible. But I do books on tape and I listen to speeches and I listen to talk show kind of things like Tavis Smiley, Bill Maher, National Public Radio, things like that.
But tour is the time where I get to actually sit and digest music. There’s a difference between listening to music for the surface value of it and then trying to live with something and completely digest what somebody is saying. Erykah Badu put a brand new album out and because I’m away from my family, I get to actually sit down and really digest it. She’s a true artist. You have to think about things you wouldn’t normally thing about when you listen to other music. You think about ‘why did the snare drum all of a sudden change sounds right there?’ and ‘what does that mean?’ and ‘why did she do it that way,’ and what’s she trying to communicate to me with that?’ That’s what I do on tour that I don’t get to do normally.
Chase: “Interesting. The other interesting thing is on your ‘Truth is Here’ EP, I forget what song it is, it might be the first one where you say ‘If I wake up in a bed that’s mine, I’m disoriented.’ It’s like ‘I’m more used to be on the road than I am being at home.’”
Brother Ali: “There are years of our lives where that really is true. That’s something that I say on a new song that I just made too, ‘Wake up in your own bed and don’t know where you are.’ I don’t think people who haven’t experienced that can really comprehend what a sacrifice that is, to have your own space but to not be at home there. To wake up and to say, ‘Well, why isn’t this a hotel?’
I’m married and I’m very faithful to my wife so I wake up sometimes at home and I will freak out. Like, why is there a woman in bed with me? I’ve woke up in my bed, with my wife, and said, ‘Oh my God, what did I do?’ and go into the bathroom and say, ‘Oh man, I have these same things in my bathroom,’ ya know what I mean, and be awake for five minutes before I realize, ‘It’s okay, you’re at your house.’ If you haven’t experiences that, I don’t think you can really appreciate how unnerving that is. That’s very true.”
Chase: “That’s something for the fans to really think about because I’m always saying this on the air as often as I can, if there’s an artist that you respect that’s coming to town, go to their concerts. You probably make more money in concerts than you do in album sales.”
Brother Ali: “Well, yeah because people don’t buy the album. If people bought the album, that situation would be remedied right away. But downloading is what it is. Matter of fact, on brotherali.com, one of the very first posts I made on there, I did a ten-minute little conversation on video about downloading. Really what it comes down to is not to say, ‘Well, you owe us money’ because the reality if that we would like you to get the real experience. We would like this music, if it means something to you, to really be part of your life in a significant way. So when you buy the music and you own it, and we’re seeing a resurgence in vinyl sales because I think people are dissatisfied and unfulfilled with having an MP3 that lives on your phone or lives in a computer or something. And actually want to own something that you can hold, that you have a collection that lives in your home.”
Chase: “That’s exactly true, because I was just speaking to a DJ/producer Lucy’Lo from Toronto here and he said the same thing. He’s like, ‘What do you own when you own an MP3? It’s this invisible thing that you can’t do anything with other than listen to. It’s really just on your computer and what happens if your computer dies? It’s gone right.”
Brother Ali: “I had a computer stolen from me and I lost a lot of really important treasures that I thought I owned. I had a lot of old recordings, bootleg home recordings from my heroes on hip-hop, live shows, Treacherous 3 live from 1982.”
Chase: “Oh wow!”
Brother Ali: “and my computer got stolen and that stuff is just gone. Hopefully I get it again but who knows?”
Chase: “Oh man, that’s a shame.”
Gamma Krush: “Was it stolen out of your home?”
Brother Ali: “Nah, stolen at a show. That same song that you referenced, ‘Somebody made away with my ___ ___ computer.’ Yeah, somebody stole my computer out of a club in San Francisco. I had demos for everything that I had ever done, the homemade demos that me and Ant made, all of it just gone.”
Chase: “That’s a shame. I know a lot of people would like to get a hold of your first tape and I think you’ve said that there’s no way you’re gonna get that anymore.”
Brother Ali: “Initially I was concerned with, I didn’t want people to buy ‘The Undisputed Truth’ or buy ‘Us’ or buy ‘Shadows on the Sun,’ and say, ‘Oh I like this guy’s music, let me go buy his other stuff.’ Because I’m comfortable with the fact that if you spend the $9 or $12 or whatever it is to buy my music, I feel confident about what you get in return.
‘Rites of Passage’ was a demo tape. That’s when I was local, I was thinking very local. I was writing as a local rapper. And as a local tape in the year 2000 when it came out, it was damn good. Ya know what I mean, I made it all myself, it’s all my own vision, all my own work, and for what it was, I felt good about it. But people not understanding that, I don’t want them to buy that thinking that they’re gonna get something on the level of ‘Shadows on the Sun’ or ‘Undisputed Truth’ or ‘Us’ and they end up with something very different. That was my initial concern. Now I just like the fact that I have something that’s hard to find. So I’m just gonna leave it like that.
There was 1000 tapes that we made in 2000 at that was it. I didn’t even have one for a long time. My DJ BK-One gave me one because he had a few of them. And when ‘The Champion’ EP came out we made 1000 CD copies for people who bought that EP. So there are 1000 tapes, 1000 CDs. If you look around on eBay sometimes people sell them. If you look around on whatever illegal download program you use, people have it.”
Chase: “Yeah, it’s so easy to find stuff these days.”
Brother Ali: “Or if you do something extremely nice for me, I might send you a zip file of it. I’ve done that too. I’ve sent people a zip file of it that do something above and beyond.”
Chase: “That’s cool.”