A year after the release of his fifth studio album, Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, Brother Ali has returned with a new project titled Left in the Deck. The album is a collection of demos recorded last year with Seattle producer Jake One that can be streamed online for free.
Along with his latest project Brother Ali is currently on the road with Immortal Technique on the War and Peace tour. The tour has remaining dates in Indianapolis, Boston, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia among other east coast cities. Technique and Ali will also perform on the Washington D.C. and New York dates of the Rock the Bells festival.
On a recent tour stop at the Metro in Chicago Brother Ali spoke to ventwing.com about his friendship with Immortal Technique, performing on the War and Peace tour, and his latest project, Left in the Deck.
SS: How did you and Immortal Technique come together for the War and Peace tour?
Brother Ali: Me and Immortal Technique have been friends for a long time, maybe ten years. Back in the day when we first started we’d get out and tour a little bit around the country. We toured together a lot. We’d go out west together. He would come to Minneapolis to perform if I had a show. He’s flown me to New York to perform. I’ve flown him to Minneapolis to perform. If we both happen to be in L.A. he would show up and be the unannounced guest, same thing in Brooklyn or wherever we are. I think it’s important to do it now to make the statement to the industry and the Hip-Hop community that making music with a message can travel the whole country. We started out west in San Francisco going all the way east ending in New York and we’re selling out venues everywhere we go. In twenty-something shows only four shows have not sold out. Those have still been big crowds they’re just in a really big theater. The business side of it has been impactful, powerful, and great. It’s important for us to show and really plant the flag that music with a message is still commercially viable. Artists that are independent and don’t have a label telling them what to say, you can say what you care about. You can speak for yourself and speak for the dignity of humanity. People will come and not only pat you on the back for it but pay money to see it. It’s very important.
SS: What’s it mean to you to perform at Rock the Bells?
Brother Ali: Rock the Bells is a great thing because it’s an institution now and it shows the entirety of Hip-Hop culture. There are a few elements still missing but it’s great to have a show where you can see Kendrick Lamar, Kid Cudi, KRS-One, Rakim, Earl Sweatshirt, and me. You get all of the different age groups and lanes of Hip-Hop. I would like to see more women perform at Rock the Bells and there is a GLBTQ community of rappers and if we’re going to be totally inclusive of Hip-Hop I think that they should perform and get a chance to get on stage and do their thing ‘cause some of them are bad! You not messing with them on the mic. They’re straight up like, “Yo, I’m a gay rapper, what?! See me on this mic though!” I love that kind of stuff.
SS: Talk a little bit about your new release, Left in the Deck.
Brother Ali: Left in the Deck is a collection of songs that I made while I was making my last album. I’m a big believer in doing demo’s, especially because I get ideas on the road or here and there. I get a basic idea, hear a beat and am moved by it, write something, spit it, and don’t try to perfect it, just get it on the tape. A lot of times there is this thing that artists have called demo-itis which means that the energy on that demo is so good that you can’s replicate it or duplicate it. It’s just dirty sounding. It sounds messed up and it’s not clean for commercial release. I had ten songs like that and I loved those songs. I said, I’m not even going to try them in studio. I’m just going to put them out as they are and you can stream it for free. If you want to own it you come to a show and if you buy a t-shirt you get a card to download it for free. At our store fifthelement.com you can do the same thing.
SS: The song ‘Grandma and Them’ from that album is dope. What inspired that story?
Brother Ali: Thank you. It’s interesting because I’ve done a lot of stories and most of them are true and most of them happened to me. There is a song I made called ‘Years’ which is a metaphor for something else but that ‘Grandma and Them’ song is fiction. It’s just me writing a story. I just had fun, man. All of those songs I made them for fun. I wasn’t trying to make a statement. There is no concept other than that being a story. My albums are all really concept driven. There are statements that I want to make about what I want my message to the world to be for that year or two years. I had a lot of fun making Left in the Deck because I wasn’t bound by that. I think I’m going to make more side projects. I think that my main albums will be me trying to make a masterpiece and a statement that I want to live by, but I’ll do side projects just for the fun of it. Maybe they’ll make the albums more fun, too. I definitely get the message that people would like to have more fun on my albums. They made that loud and clear when they didn’t buy Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color.
SS: What’s next up for Brother Ali?
Brother Ali: I’m going to go home from this tour and I have one month before I hit the road in Europe with Dilated Peoples. I’m going to make another side project. I’m going to give myself one month. I have somebody that has beats ready for me. I’m going to go home and write and record as much as I can in that one month. If we get four dope songs it’ll be a four-song project. If we get fifteen dope songs it’ll be a fifteen-song project. I’m going to go home and just throw myself into that and just have fun making music. This tour has put my heart back in music again and I didn’t even realize that my heart wasn’t in it for a year or so. I got a little bit disenchanted, man. Some things happened to me and some of them were choices I made, all of them included choices I made, but some things happened that made me feel a little bit dissed. I got a little bitter, which happens. I’ve been doing this professionally for 11 years. It’s been my entire life since I was 7, so that’s nineteen years. To have one year where I feel jaded or whatever, it’s going to happen. My heart is back in it. It’s fun again and I’m enjoying it again. I feel young so I’m going to go home and use this energy while I have it.
See Brother Ali live on the War and Peace tour:
- 9/26: Indianapolis, IN – The Vogue
- 9/27: Pittsburgh, PA – Altar Bar
- 9/29: Philadelphia, PA – Theatre of the Living Arts
- 10/1: Boston, MA – The Paradise
- 10/2: New Haven, CT – Toad’s Place
- 10/3: Northampton, MA – Pearl Street
- 10/4: Burlington, VT – Higher Ground