We all take a little pride in that feeling when we get to share our favorite artist that no one knows about. It’s like we found something secret. We are part of an underground fan base that knows something few others do. For years that’s been the feeling for my fandom of Brother Ali. I was a regular at a little hole-in-the-wall bar that the tourists hadn’t discovered yet. After getting to the Hawthorne Theater on Saturday night and seeing the Brother Ali show had sold out, I realized that the word was out.
In talking with other fans before the show, I realized it was word of mouth that was getting his message out. For every Ali fan, there was someone who was dragged there because, “They just had to see this.” Everyone said the same things: “He does it differently.” “There is substance to his music.” “He actually has something to say and not just a bunch of BS.” I was hearing this from kids ten years younger than me. Kids whose mom dropped ‘em off. Maybe there is a little hope for the youth of America after all.
Openers? Yeah, he’s got ‘em. You’re doing yourself a disservice by arriving tardy to the party. It always baffles me how many people show up and hour late and walk in on the middle of a second act’s set. Do you have any idea what you missed? No, you don’t because you’re late. That ticket gets you in to see Brother Ali, sure. It also gets you in to see what Brother Ali calls the greatest group performing (The ReMINDers) and the best MC out there now (Homeboy Sandman). These are Brother Ali’s words, not mine; I don’t disagree, though. Brother Ali brought them along to share with you. If at all possible, get there early to see these people, because they are the perfect intros to the live hip-hop you’ll experience when Ali hits the stage. I do mean “live.” He’s got a sax, trombone, a guitar, keys, and I think I even saw a flute and a banjo at one point. This is truly a “live” show.
Brother Ali puts in to his work everything inside him. It’s not just the pretty things and the club bangers. He shares the world with his listeners though his eyes. He’s no Nobel laureate. He doesn’t have a degree in hip-hop-enomics. He has no Master’s in poetry or a degree in music theory. This is what inspires me to do what I do. I write not as some supreme expert on a subject or as a world leader. I’m a guy who has a view and I want to share with the world. I’ll keep doing it as long as it comes to me. Just as in the past shows of Ali’s, if the room is full or the crowd is sparse, he is bringing the same energy to his message. As Ali says, “Whatever comes up comes out. We don’t put our hands over our mouths.”
He does his thing without apology. He doesn’t hide the ugly parts of life. He is painfully honest. It’s getting harder today to find that kind of music. It’s rare all together, but even rarer on the Top 40. I’m sorry, no offense to Taylor Swift (who has four of the top 10 singles on iTunes as of writing this), but Brother Ali does his thing on a different level than what you’re gonna find selling, yet he packs a place to the rafters. Ali is one of those artists that I feel wouldn’t suffer from that, “made it” status. If out of nowhere Brother Ali blew up and turned in to a household name, I can’t speak for everyone, but I wouldn’t have that, “I was a fan when/sellout” bitterness. I would be genuinely stoked for his success and pumped for the world that they were fans of something like this. It would instill a little faith in humanity in me, to be frank.
Nothing is hidden from view with Brother Ali. He lays it all out there for you to see. The energy is peace, love, and honesty at his shows. I can’t imagine having to go to work and being as honest as he is. Can you imagine if your boss came to you and told you to reveal your darkest secrets and recount your greatest struggles to customers? There you are having to answer the phone and tell the story about the heartbreak over your divorce. You’ve gotta recount with vivid clarity the addiction struggles of family, that time you were homeless, and your worst experiences of shame as a father or friend. Can you imagine having to recount to strangers the suicide of your father or one of your closest friends? I can’t. Brother Ali can. He does it to get himself and people through the struggles. Seeing it live, being in that room with those other listeners with your hands raised is something akin to church for me, as close as I’ll come to it. It is gospel because it is truth. Life doesn’t put on make-up to cover up the bruises. I respect a man whose music doesn’t either.
Attending a Brother Ali concert, or buying an album, or a T-shirt is like supporting NPR or PBS to me. It’s not something I watch or listen to every day. Sometimes I even get caught up in life and forget that it’s there. But once or twice a year when he drop a new album or comes to town, I support it. Why? Well, I love going to the concert and feeling the invigorating energy he puts out. I like feeling the bass rattle the flesh and his words shake the rest. That concert is my telethon, and that album is my tote-bag. I buy albums and tickets because I know I want him to keep making music for the same reason I support public broadcasting and other causes; the world is better for having those things in it. The world is better for having Ali’s music in it, so I want him to keep doing his thing. So here’s my twenty bucks for that show or that shirt. Here’s my $9.99 for that album. I’m giving it to you just as much for the product as I am for the cause. Maybe that’s a bit grandiose to think about it in those terms, but this is one person whose music I not only love listening to, but who has inspired me personally to continue to put out my work and my words even though it’s just a drop and in the bucket and no one is listening…yet.
So, yeah. It was a good show.
For our interview with Ali, click it!
Finally, everybody send out fam hugs and rep wings and teeth for P.O.S. If you find a kidney just layin’ around, he could really use that shit. Keep your head up, Stef. Love that new album, man.