Happy Birthday, Brother Ali!
Today, July 30, marks the birthday of Brother Ali, who now turns 41.
Born in Madison, Wisc., but raised in Minneapolis, Minn., the eventual rap wizard became interested in hip-hop at a very early age. From the time he was young, he listened to acts politically conscious acts like Public Enemy and KRS-One. From the outset of his career it was obvious that Ali, who was born with a form of albinism, took influence from both artists' respective styles.
Speaking to XXL in 2017, Ali touched a bit on the way one KRS and Nelson George book managed to influence him in the early going.
"Well, the first book I ever got was by KRS-One and Nelson George, and they had a book [on the] Stop the Violence movement [called Stop the Violence: Overcoming Self-Destruction] that they did and that was the first book that I ever read," he explained. Years later, his interest in KRS and the book would lead to an amazing, once in a lifetime encounter with one of his favorite rappers.
Continuing on in his recollection, Ali remembered meeting one of his KRS. "And then I went to the lecture tour when I was 13, when KRS-One was speaking and there was a question and answer period at the end, it was at a university, and I went to the mic and I was like 'Hey, I bought this book. I read it, it's the first book I ever read. I memorized every word you ever recorded and released. I know you're busy right now, but when this is over, would you mind signing this for me?' And he was like, "Nah, come up on the stage right now.'"
From there, KRS taught Ali about The Autobiography of Malcolm X while asking him a variety of questions. Needless to say, experiences like this one helped him down the socially aware path he's walked along his entire career.
Bursting onto the scene with Rites of Passage in 2000, Ali made known his presence as a dedicated social commentator. "We waste money and call it cheese/Smoke plants and call 'em trees/While subsidized daycare workers/Raise our seeds/We swap body fluids with who's ever with it/And think marriage is a big commitment," he raps on "Whatever," a standout cut from his debut LP.
Repping Rhymesayers Entertainment, Ali would continue building a name for himself with well-honed lyricism and a willingness to speak on any and everything. In 2007 he made his presence truly known on the national stage when he hit The Late Late Show to deliver an epic performance of "Uncle Sam Goddamn," a cut from his critically acclaimed LP, The Undisputed. On this particular track, Ali deconstructs the ills of the U.S.
"All must bow to the fat and lazy/The fuck you, obey me, and why do they hate me? (Who me?)/Only two generations away/From the world's most despicable slavery trade/Pioneered so many ways to degrade a human being/That it can't be changed to this day," Ali spits on the scathing track.
Building off from that point, Ali continued unloading dope LP after dope LP, including Us (2009), Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color (2012) and All the Beauty in This Whole Life (2017). Using his gift for delivering potent lyricism and the will to speak out on injustice and help the imperiled, Ali remains one of the most outspoken voices in hip-hop.
Happy Birthday, Brother Ali! Here's to many, many more.
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