Volume 2, Issue 7 (2003)
Brother Ali, one of the newer members of the Rhymesayers family, knows a thing or two about paying dues. He has been working on his craft for the past 10-12 years, including producing, recording and mixing his now out of print effort in 2000 entitled, “Rites of Passage.” With the exception of his cassette only LP and a couple Scribble Jam appearances, the Madison, WI native has remained in the background sharpening his skills waiting for the perfect opportunity in which to shine.
“In the underground it’s like a bunch of amateurs who aren’t ready, they’re still practicing,” Ali expressed. “You should have a million shows at your lunch table. You should rap in front of your friends for three years before you even get on a stage, but they have no respect for it. I thoroughly believe in being over prepared, to not throw myself out there for some shit I’m not ready for yet. By the time I did the God Loves Ugly Tour I had performed at everything from 25 to 5,000 people successfully to the point where I felt like it came off well.”
Using the God Loves Ugly Tour as his promotional vehicle Ali joined Atmosphere, MURS, and Blueprint to rip mics in 63 cities gathering fans at every stop as he exhibited impressive lyrics and a strong stage presence. With confidence in tow and momentum gaining the time has finally come for Ali to showcase his tremendous talents to the world. “Shadows On The Sun” pairs Ali with the famed yet underrated Atmosphere producer, A.N.T, creating arguably one of the best albums in 2003 thus far. In an era where albums are packed with too many guest appearances and production Ali and A.N.T decided instead to follow the blueprints of some of hiphop’s classic offerings.
“The way the majority of hiphop motherfuckers make their album today disgust me,” says the MC. “People look at an album song by song now. It’s like people try twelve times to make a hit, some people try four times and then put a bunch of random shit on there. Whereas if you look at the great albums they have a sound and a feel to them and it’s an experience to listen to them. Everything makes sense and has its own place and it flows beautifully. There are people that just have that gift of putting a record together. Ant is one of those people and that’s how I am too, we just see eye to eye completely.”
The chemistry created on wax between A.N.T and Ali was strong, so strong in fact that it made Ali rethink his whole approach to how he wanted the album to sound. The plan was to initially split the production duties, but once the first song, “Room With a View,” was recorded Ali was convinced to scrap all plans of having any other producer on the album. Room With a View’s melodic intro, serving as sounds you might associate with Minnesota, is quickly replaced by hard hitting drum beats and screeching horns. The energy of the track is matched by Ali’s potent rhymes about the neighborhood he lives in, starting the album out with a bang.
“That’s the song that made me say fuck everything,” exclaimed Ali. “I went by A.N.T’s crib to do his songs and after we did that I was sold. Everything else on the record got dropped or remade with A.N.T. and it’s mainly because of the overall experience of making a song with him and the vision that we have of what we’re doing.”
The vision is also illustrated by the album’s title. Ali’s efforts have various meanings and portray his situation at the time, the music and ideas that he wants to put across, and his outlook for the future all summed up in a few words.
“I name my records the way I name my babies,” claims Ali. “It’s the goal that I have for that record. When I named Rites of Passage It was me saying I’m willing to grind, to pay my dues, to get to open at a show before people really come in, I’m willing to rap for free. With this one (“Shadows on the Sun”) I’m still definitely in that mindset, but my goal is to shine now.”
“Shadows of the Sun” tells a story and for those that don’t know Ali prepare to be intimately introduced. During the course of recording the album Ali has had some serious family drama with his mom, been homeless with a wife and child, and simply stated he faced the most difficult, trying year of his life. His situation made him study others who have gone through hardships in the past and each time he saw that the human spirit persevered through the toughest obstacles. Inspired, Ali went on to reflect that same feeling into his music penning lyrics that outlined the problems in his life to serve as the soundtrack for others going through struggles.
“The record starts out talking about how it’s fucked up where I live at, there’s mc shit talking in the middle, it talks about me getting beat up but basically winning,” explained Ali. “It talks about me being a fat ugly funny looking albino who’s sexy as fuck anyway. It goes thru all these different things and at the end of it on the song called Picket Fence I break it down and the last song is the Victory song. That’s the whole idea of the record. Motherfuckers shining where it seems like the deck is stacked against them.”
For anyone who copped “Rites of Passage” you can expect a similar journey with much more aggression. For those who haven’t heard Ali but are familiar with the Rhymesayers you can expect the same honesty that exudes from the label’s previous efforts with a more straightforward hiphop approach. And for those who are just looking for some good music meet Brother Ali, he’s the one shining.