Last year, while working on his forthcoming album, "Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color," due in September, Brother Ali, one of rap's most politically-minded artists, knew he had to make a change. His sanity was at stake.
He had long blasted America’s institutionalized racism and the horror of the ancient slave-trade route known as the Middle Passage, among other topics. But as he worked on “Mourning In America," he found a way to move beyond the anger that had long consumed him.
“I couldn’t live my whole life just being mad and sad,” says the Minneapolis rapper. “At some point, it’s like, ‘Okay. Get busy living or get busy dying.’ What are you going to do here?”
So Brother Ali adjusted the way he thought about the United States.
“I was for so long only registering the pain of the evils and atrocities that America has committed here and around the world,” he says. “Before, it was just anger. Grief is a process, and it’s a process to heal from being traumatized. Part of that process and one of those stages is anger. You have denial, embarrassment and then you go through anger. Another stage is to move on and try to be a survivor, to figure out how to try to heal, how to move forward. You never lose your anger, your sorrow, but that can actually fuel something productive.”
The byproduct of this newfound productivity emerges on the “Mourning In America and Dreaming In Color” selection “Letter To My Countrymen.” On the Jake One-produced song, he raps about how he used to hate America. Yet it was through the teachings of African-American Muslim leader W.D. Muhammad and American philosopher Dr. Cornel West, among others, that Brother Ali realized that the United States was founded on the right principles.
“The right ideas are clocked into the doctrine of this country,” he says. “The problem is that they’ve never applied to everybody. There’s never been enough pressure and enough people accountable to make it a reality, so that’s the goal, to make these things real. There’s something deeply patriotic about trying to hold true to those original concepts, but make them apply to everyone in a way that, honestly, they never have before.”
The Occupy Movement in the United States and the uprisings in London, Syria, Libya and elsewhere make Brother Ali believe that it is possible for the world to achieve the type of opportunity that America was set up to provide to all of its citizens.
“I’ve been trying to keep track of hope,” he says. “Not optimism, thinking, ‘Well, if I just smile and act happy this will get better somehow magically.’ But if me and enough other people are willing to sacrifice, speak the truth and take whatever hits come with that, work hard on changing things from the ground up, there’s opportunity and excitement in that.”