Brother Ali at the Hawthorne Theater
Writing this, I think you're going to hate me, then accept what I'm about to tell you as one of the unfortunate truths of life. But Brother Ali is such a larger-than-life character, he needs to be split into two personas: the Preacher and the Reacher.
Brother Ali, The Preacher:
Brother Ali spits Truth with a capital T. He told me he doesn’t make music to simply speak authentically, but it's certainly a pervasive theme in his music. It’s not just him; it’s a marginalized eye that cuts a fine figure through the shady reality we live in.
So Brother Ali speaks Truth... is it really true? When I asked about the presidential race, I was surprised at the level of vitriol he leveled against Barack Obama. To Ali, it's far worse to harm someone under the pretense of helping them. For example, the Tea Party is up-front about what they believe. However, there's a fair chance these power-players may actually believe they're helping the world – in the same way Ali does. If you believe you're absolutely right, how can you condemn other zealots as evil, not simply wrong? In essence, there's a danger to Ali's Truth: his vision of absolutism is shared by the Mujahedeen, the Israeli settlers, the Westboro Baptist Church, and even myself – who believes you're still reading this article.
Brother Ali the Preacher is like Morpheus of the Wachowski trilogy The Matrix: we know he's on the right side, but his principles and morals give him a serious case of tunnel vision. In the end, his convictions get him into an untenable position. Also, Cornell West.
"Have you ever had an American Dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real?"
Brother Ali, The Reacher:
Let me get off my soapbox for a moment and talk about the content of Ali's lyrics. After all, this is a man who is able to reach out and attract hundreds of white college kids to hear him speak about the poor and marginalized people in cities like Chicago. At the same time, he is not condescending or arrogant. In his own words, everyone has both privilege and hardships. I can relate to that because I have seen every episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
But it’s not just the great beats (provided by Seattle’s Jake One) or Ali's commanding prose, presence, and flow that draws me in, it’s his ability to talk to listeners, to get us to understand privilege and marginalization in a way that Spike Lee or that sociology major you went out with once never could .
At the end of the day, Brother Ali has style, humility, and dedication to his craft; traits that make him both a great lyricist and a scary-good preacher. But, according to Sartre, a man is the sum of his actions - no more, no less. Brother Ali spreads a message of peace and understanding, something that very few people civilized people would disagree with.
Bonus! Wolfgang Gartner at the Crystal Ballroom while totally sober: