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Brother Ali continues push to stardom at Legends

Tae Andrews | Thursday, January 17, 2008

You might say Brother Ali stands out in the hip-hop crowd. In an industry dominated by black artists and performers, white rappers such as Eminem and Vanilla Ice have always been novelty acts, but Brother Ali goes beyond the pale. He’s an albino.

Born Jason Newman in Madison, Wisc., Brother Ali moved to another frigid city in a frigid state. After arriving on the Minneapolis, Minn. hip-hop scene, the fair-skinned MC’s career began heating up. Brother Ali, who will be performing at Legends Saturday, eventually managed to prove naysayers and doubters wrong by signing a deal with music label Rhymesayers Entertainment.

As you might imagine, growing up albino made for a difficult childhood for Mr. Ali. As he matured Ali learned to grow a thick skin and worked on his lyrical rhyme schemes. Today, what he lacks in melanin he makes up for with colorful rhymes.

Unlike many of the hip-hop artists cluttering up FM airwaves with trash talk of drive-by shootings and strip club jaunts, Brother Ali’s music offers a return to hip-hop’s roots in political and social commentary. On his most recent album, “The Undisputed Truth,” Ali recorded a song entitled “Uncle Sam Goddamn,” in which he vents his frustrations about the American government and the drug- and crime-infested streets of the nation’s inner cities.

“Welcome to the united snakes / land of the thief / home of the slave / grand imperial guard / where the dollar is sacred / and power is God.

“Pioneered so many ways to degrade a human being / that it can’t be changed to this day / legacy so ingrained in the way that we think / we no longer need chains to be slaves.”

Brother Ali has an interesting, laid-back delivery: His voice makes for smooth listening, and yet it’s laced with soul and drips with biting satire. Brother Ali’s music features a variety of colorful influences, including some blues, folk and soul accompanying his beats.

Prior to “The Undisputed Truth,” Brother Ali released an album entitled “Champion” in 2004. Between albums, Brother Ali suffered a fall from grace, including separating from his wife of 10 years, living as a homeless person and battling for custody of his son. His hunger and pain make their way through his voice to the ears of his listeners.

Of his latest album, Ali has said, “I wanted to make an album that gives you no choice but to feel what I’m feeling at the time. I made choices that sent me through a lot of struggle in the past few years and [producer] ANT and I have made music that really communicates the feeling of those situations.”

Ali counts among his friends underground rapper Slug from the hip-hop group Atmosphere. The group is also signed under the Rhymesayers Entertainment music label, and Atmosphere member ANT produced Brother Ali’s first album, “Shadows on the Sun” in 2003.

Given that he’s legally blind, Brother Ali may actually not see color, which is fitting considering his status as an aberration in the rap world. His MySpace page describes Ali as a “modern urban Normal Rockwell” and “a cross between John Gotti and Mahatma Gandhi.” That’s fitting praise for a man whose professional career continues to straddle lines of color and convention.

With the release of “The Undisputed Truth” in April of last year, 2007 saw Brother Ali continue to push toward developing a national audience. Hip-hop magazine The Source gave Ali an interview in October of last year, while Rolling Stone magazine named him a “New Artist to Watch.” Brother Ali also appeared on “The Late Late Show” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” performing his songs “Uncle Same Goddamn” and “Take Me Home.”

Brother Ali has made no bones about his future aspirations, saying that he is “trying to be one of the greatest of all time.” Much like Muhammed Ali, the greatest boxer of all time and whose image graces the cover of his CD “Champion,” Brother Ali has the mouth to talk the talk, and the skills to back it up. After the successes of 2007, Brother Ali kicks off 2008 and continues his push to the top tonight at Legends. The future looks bright for this up and coming hip-hopper.

Contact Tae Andrews at tandrew1@nd.edu