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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

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In Music Commentary

Brother Ali will return to the stage Oct. 31 for an 88Nine Radio Milwaukee Halloween.

Brother Ali takes a break from hiatus for 88Nine's Halloween show


Listener-supported radio station 88Nine Radio Milwaukee loves to give back to the community, creating Milwaukee-centric pieces – both audio and written – that seek out and highlight worthy people and places in and around Milwaukee.

Another thing they love to do is throw a great party.

This Halloween the station is looking to pack Turner Hall with a lineup that consists of the buzz-worthy Motopony and Minneapolis-based Rhymesayers hip-hop artist Brother Ali.

Brother Ali is no stranger to alternative music crowds as he's the type of artist that typically tours on a regular and aggressive basis.

At times the rapper is political, and at times he delivers "blue collar" street tales that authentically show the struggle of poverty rather than the lies spewed forth by commercial "dope boy" rappers found on most Top 40 and urban radio stations.

Ali is a strong family man who has recently bunkered down to work on new music while enjoying time with his family, and his performance in Milwaukee will be an uncharacteristically rare performance for the artist who is using 2011 as a brief hiatus from the road.

However, when the 88Nine show was presented to him, he jumped at the chance to feed his stage fix at a non-traditionally formatted show.

"I've been on tour non-stop from the beginning of 2002 to the end of 2010. I pretty much have done somewhere between six and ten months, every year, on the road touring. So, this year I took some time off – basically I pretty much took the whole year off from the road – to be with my family and make a lot of new music. I'm only doing a few shows here and there and I'm not doing standard Brother Ali shows. But when people invite me to be a part of other events, I do those just to still kind of get on stage. I miss being on stage. I miss performing. It's really an important part of my life that I'm kind of having some withdrawals now, you know what I mean? They actually reached out and actually asked me to do this Halloween event and it sounded like a great opportunity to get on stage."

Though he plans on having fun on stage and throughout the night, Ali laughed at being asked if he'd wear a costume for the occasion and settled the score right away while maintaining a healthy chuckle.

"Hell no. No way. Never that."

For his brief return to the stage, Ali will be without longtime friend and DJ BK-ONE, who left the stage behind last year in order to slow life down a bit so he could enjoy his role as a father. Though BK-ONE won't be there, and hasn't been with Ali for some time now, the energy and fun they molded into the typical Brother Ali set will still be present.

"We kind of built the show style – our style of performance – we kind of built it together. I still create my sets and I still do it with the same thought pattern and approach, like the ideas that I have, the music that I feel is meaningful – at least to me – and try to present it in a way that's fun and energetic and in a way that makes it an enjoyable thing."

Hip-hop as a medium presented on stage can at times be a stagnant and uninteresting thing, but this is not the case for Brother Ali, who is known for the quality and depth of his live shows. This is something he attributes to lessons learned by watching legendary performers KRS-ONE and Chuck D of Public Enemy. He even tips his hat to other artists who he personally thinks are great on stage.

"I stole all my moves from KRS-ONE and Chuck D. Those are the people that I grew up idolizing, particularly for their stage show. There are people in my generation too that are really great. I feel like (rapper) Common doesn't get as much credit as he deserves but he's one of the greatest ever live. Black Thought from The Roots is amazing live. Atmosphere is great live. Sage Francis is really great live. Murs is amazing live. There's a lot of people that are great."

With a year off to work on new music, Brother Ali reveals that the time off has yielded a wealth of tracks with longtime friend and producer Jake-One, who has done tracks with Ali before but has never handled the production of an entire album for him yet. That job was typically left for Rhymesayers producer Ant of the group Atmosphere.

"I've been working with Jake-One all year. In the last year Atmosphere released two albums and they've been on tour all year so I haven't been able to get (Ant's) attention the way that I normally do. Normally we have this routine that we kind of fall into where when Atmosphere is slowing down or when Atmosphere is taking a break, that's when me and Ant work. Then, I go on tour with the new album that we just made and he starts working with (Atmosphere's) Slug and they go on tour, and I'm finishing my tour cycle right around the time that they're finishing theirs. It just didn't work out like that this time and so I haven't been able to get him.

"I've been wanting to work with Jake-One for a long time. Me and Jake-One have been friends since like 2000, so I kind of circled back to him and we made a few songs and then we talked about doing an EP while I was waiting for Ant, and we ended up making 50 songs. We're going to take like 15 of them, or something like that, for an album and then we'll have a bunch of music which I'm guessing we'll get at least two projects there, and then a bunch of extra stuff to do with whatever we want with it."

Ali also dives a little into the news that recently surfaced about Philadelphia rapper and former Roc-A-Fella artist Freeway and their rumored project.

"Freeway was here. Me and Freeway have been friends for a while too. We actually met through Jake. I just threw a big event in Minneapolis at my mosque there where we did a combination day of service and block party and me and Freeway performed for free. He ended up staying for a week at my house and hung out with my kids and made a bunch of music. I think we're actually probably going to go to Seattle and then finish the project together."

Though this is good news for hip-hop fans, Ali quickly pulls back on giving more details about the project because it is still very early in the process of everything involved in making an album. However, he does certainly know that his next solo album should be out in February of next year.

"Honestly, I think Freeway kind of jumped the gun on talking about it. Like I said, I'm just now starting to talk about an album with Jake. I don't like rushing things. I don't like to start the excitement to try to get people excited about stuff way early because then it feels like, "Come on, you're taking forever," and it's like, "No, I'm just taking the time that I need to take." My solo album is almost done, like mixed and ready to go, but we're going to release that early next year. Then I'll be on the road again, touring again, running around crazy again."


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