Brother Ali returns to AK

Last time he was in Anchorage, Brother Ali opened for underground hip-hop sensation Atmosphere. Two years, two EP’s and one full album later, Ali returns.
Brother Ali, born Jason Newman, changed his name to Ali after converting to Islam. Ali grew up in Minneapolis and was attracted to hip-hop from a very early age.
“So much is communicated through the medium of hip-hop,” Ali said. “Listen to a rock song. If you were to put all the words together, you’d have a paragraph. Whereas hip-hop you’d have two pages of material. I learned so much about defining yourself and empowering yourself based on who you really are from rap. I’ve been hooked on it ever since 7 or 8 years old.”
Ali is a unique individual: he’s an albino rapper. Being albino comes with many challenges – both physical and social.
On his first album, “Shadows on the Sun” Ali titles a track “Forest Whitaker” after another man who faces societal challenges.
“If Forest Whitaker were to walk into a casting agency say, ‘Hey, I’m Forest Whitaker and I’m here to be a movie star,’ just looking at him you’d think that no, that’s not what a movie star looks like,” Ali said. “But he knew what he had and the talent he had. His art and acting is based on connecting to the character on a human level and then connecting to the audience on a human level. He knew what his approach was and stuck to it. That’s why he’s one of the biggest inspirations to me.”
Race is not important to Ali, which is the way it should be. Hip-hop was created to get a message across. The messages in Ali’s songs aren’t about race and gang banging; they are about self-development and realization.
Atmosphere’s DJ Ant has produced all of Ali’s full-length albums. According to Ali, Ant “helps bring out aspects of me as an artist that I would not have the confidence to do on my own. He really makes music and tailors it to bring out certain parts of who I am.”
Ali, DJ Ant and Atmosphere are all part of Rhymesayers Entertainment, an independent hip-hop label based out of Minneapolis. Rhymesayers employs many hip-hop acts that are considered underground hip-hop.
Typically an underground hip-hop artist is someone who is doing things either independently or with an independent label. The flipside is that underground hip-hop is starting to become so popular and mainstream, it’s hard to define where it ends and mainstream hip-hop begins.
“It’s kind of a made up term, like Christianity and religion in that it’s something different to everyone that you talk to,” Ali said. “Someone would tell you that Atmosphere is not underground anymore, I would disagree, but it’s hard to say. It’s such a subjective term.”
Ali does admit that as long as music isn’t part of the ‘music machine,’ which consists of corporate radio, TV and magazines, then he still considers it underground. But even that line is blurred, because hip-hop that is considered underground is still sold with the same CDs that are considered mainstream.
Right now Ali is underground, and seems happy with it. Anchorage will conclude one of his tours before he starts another in May. His new EP “The Truth is Here” was just released and his new full-length album “Street Preacher” is scheduled to hit stores in the fall of 2009.
“Everything I’ve done up till now has been strictly autobiographical. They really focused on me and my stories. I feel like I really got a good chance to tell a good portion of my story,” Ali said. “Now what I’m doing is widening, broadening the focus a little bit to start pulling in the people I love. I’ll have stories about other people, things from my close friends and family and just kind of show the people around me who helped make me who I am.”
If you want to see who Ali is, he will be playing a 21 and over show at the Anchor Pub on April 23 and an all-ages show at Club Millennium on April 24. Doors open at 9 p.m. and tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door.