“It’s so easy to say well societies had slavery yeah but not American chattel slavery where you lost your name, you lost your religion, you lost your language, you lost your family ties you lost your culture you lost your identity as a man and as a woman and as a group you lost everything worldly all your connection to everything in the world that never happened before.”
Two years ago while America was still perched in a war called the second Vietnam mainstream hip-hop sustained a mill of narcissistic internal battles and fickle beefs.Arguments over rap’s rigor mortis, ageism on both ends of the spectrum, women as vulgar ornaments, the perpetual exaltation of material excess and weary claims of street authenticity dominated most of the content. Rappers used the internet and the last of hip-hop’s print publications to instigate a corporate influenced culture of honor assigned to finding a realness that has evaded the genre since Dr. Dre wore eyeliner during his World Class Wreckin’ Cru days. On the underground scene a snowy white rapper with albino features made a song holding the government and Americans responsible for the situation in Iraq and called it “Uncle Sam Goddamn.” The rapper’s fluorescent appearance was a shocking contrast to a moniker that immediately connotes Blackness. Brother Ali’s lifetime of kindred relationships with African-Americans humbled his potential for bigotry and made hip-hop an organic choice of expression. A nomadic life in small towns in the midwest and his eventual settlement in Minnesota were experiences lived without a traditional family foundation that only stabilized with Black people. When he heard Chuck D, who has a guest spot on Us, in the ‘80s and KRS-One his relational point with them was more politically aligned with Teena Marie than Justin Timberlake. Those feelings produced disgusted diatribes against America’s historical oppression of its people delivered with the inflection of a Baptist minister. Hip-hop was outlaw culture and being a white male rapper critiquing whiteness makes him a gadfly among gadflies a Michael Moore of rap with the abolitionist spirit of John Brown running around and through him. Us is his fifth outing with label home Rhymesayers Entertainment and his passion for an egalitarian America and upholding the standards of the Golden Era have not waned. In this interview he explains Us, his politics and why he became a Muslim.
I heard your new song “Us” for the album with the same name tell me about it?
This is like my fifth project and everything that I’ve done up till now was really autobiographical and really just about my life and stories from my life and the way that I feel about things. I’ve developed a particular style of writing songs that’s really personal and it’s kind of my own and it’s not that other people don’t write personal things or don’t write about their life. A lot of artists in hip-hop and outside hip-hop but the particular way that I do it is kind of mine. And so I wrote these really personal songs all these years and my story is kind of unique in that I don’t really belong in any particular social group whether it’s race or economic or religious or whatever but kind of equally accepted and rejected by all of ‘em. It’s kind of like get in where I fit in and so my story being embraced by people the way that it was really gave me a lot of faith, that if you just really stick to the personal side of things, the human side the emotion and the mood and the feelings that you have when you’re in these situations if you really focus on telling stories that way people hear themselves in your story even if the details are not the same.
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And so I pushed that further and further and further with all these things like and say ‘OK can I make these people accept me just me being myself?’ And telling my story and just saying whatever I really feel and it turned out that for the people that listen yeah. So I said OK let me test it a little further how can I push this even further. And people that come to my shows haven’t had the same experiences where they know me in a lot of different situations. It’s a lot of kids who have had access to the mainstream part of American society whether they’re in college whatever it is that wasn’t my experience but so the question started to become for myself like can I tell the stories of the people that I love or the people around me if I do it in that same kind of personal way where I talk about the relationship I have with them. Can I connect the listeners with those people now you know what I mean try to stretch that connection a level further say well, Ok Chad you may never have known anybody that had to sell drugs to live then got murdered but my best friend was in that situation. So many of these stories might not have been close and personal and dear to your heart so you may think that they have nothing to do with you but, if I can tell these stories and talk about the pain and the fear and the frustrations and the celebration and the love and everything and the strength and the courage and all these things. Saying it in way that you see yourself in my friends maybe you don’t feel so separate from them anymore. So that’s what this album tried to do I’m not saying I did a LeBron James with it but I did the best I could do.