When it comes to indie rap, few MCs boast the candid storytelling of Brother Ali.
The rapper, who records for the Minneapolis-based indie label Rhymesayers, sees himself as a messenger of hope, faith and belief. Some of his songs are about the art of rapping. Others are autobiographical; some are pure poetry. In his music, which heavily samples artists like Run DMC and Public Enemy, it’s easy to detect the lasting influence of Ali’s childhood in the ’80s and ’90s — the “Golden Age” of hip hop. But just as common are samples that predate him, like Bobby Womack or Nina Simone.
“I make rap music, but it’s always been from a blues perspective and from a soul perspective,” Ali tells EW. “That’s the music that shaped me. That’s what I grew up listening to, until rap took over.”
Ali, who converted to Islam when he was 15, says his 2012 album Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color was conceptualized after his first trip to Mecca. It was recorded during an “exile” in Seattle with producer Jake One, who has also worked with artists like Dr. Dre and De La Soul.
“The album is really about highlighting this time, and what it’s about,” Ali says.
Ali wrote the LP in response to uprisings in the Middle East and the widespread popularity of the Occupy Movement in 2011. He says he believes that those themes have even more reverberation in 2014; look at how people have gone to the streets in Ferguson, he says.
Ali’s interest in activism is evident in nearly every song on Mourning in America, especially the first track, “Letter To My Countrymen.” That song, which is largely about recognizing his own privilege, concludes with a personalized message from American philosopher and activist Cornel West, a friend and mentor to Ali.
When Ali comes to Eugene, however, expect to hear music from his entire catalogue, not just the politically charged pieces. The goal for the “Home Away From Home” tour, he says, is to check in with his fans before he makes a new record.
“College towns are great because there’s a lot of young people,” Ali says. “It’s a really good place for anyone to perform, but especially for music that has a message to it.”
Brother Ali performs with Bambu and DJ Last Word 9 pm Sunday, Sept. 28, at WOW Hall; $18 adv., $20 door.