Brother Ali’s two-day stint at the Fox Theatre this Sunday and Monday is bound to be a good time. Just don’t be surprised if the rapper seems pensive rather than celebratory.
The Minneapolis hip-hop artist is part of the famed Rhymesayers collective along with Atmosphere, P.O.S. and MF Doom. He’s collaborated with The Roots, played the late night TV circuit, and was featured as “One to Watch” in Rolling Stone. He’s also an incredibly devout Muslim who just returned from the most intense experience of his life.
Before hitting the road this holiday season on The Grouch That Stole Christmas Tour with The Grouch and Eligh among others, Brother Ali fulfilled his Hajj, the sacred pilgrimage every able-bodied Muslim must make to Mecca in his or her lifetime.
“For everybody who is really a spiritual or reflective person who goes out there, I can’t imagine they don’t come back changed or reborn,” Ali says. “One of the sayings about it is that if you complete your Hajj and do it sincerely, then it’s like being born again. I don’t like those words being together, because the Christians have taken that over, but it’s like being a new person. You’re born into a new consciousness of the universe.”
Ali admits his nervousness before going, but later on realized that any level of self-reflection or readiness isn’t even important to the process.“I went into it not knowing if I was ready,” he says.
“I’d spent the last year touring. I also lost my dad this year and never really processed that. I lost a great friend of mine as well and I haven’t really processed that. I haven’t been home. I haven’t been going to my mosque a whole lot. So I went into this trip wondering, ‘Am I even ready for this?’ But man, it’s not about being ready. It’s about being there and letting it do to you what it does to people.”
Brother Ali describes the incredible emotional tension he felt as both frightening and exhilarating.
“It was the most terrifying and rewarding experience of my life by far,” he says. “I put it there with the birth of my kids — that would be the only thing that could even be mentioned in the same breath.”
However, it wasn’t merely the emotions that took over but the terrifying physical elements as well.
“There’s a lot of terrifying aspects,” Ali explains. “People get trampled. For me, I’m legally blind, so that’s also a challenge. I don’t speak Arabic either. I can read and write the Qur’an, but I can’t speak it conversationally. I got lost one time when I was there in this tent city where there’s four million people sleeping in tents on the ground. There’s no cabs or telephones. I already had blisters on my feet covering the bottom of both, and I ended up walking for eight hours not knowing where I was going or if I’d make it back to my group.”
For an artist already so attuned to his spirituality, it might be difficult to perceive Ali taking his craft to another level — yet that’s exactly what he believes will happen as he moves forward in 2011.
“I’ve rededicated myself across the board to not do anything at all contrary to my craft,” Ali says. “I’ve made a commitment to myself and to my spirituality that I wouldn’t do, feel, say, think anything that doesn’t serve my purpose in life. I just refuse to think thoughts and make gestures that don’t serve what I believe I’m here to do in this life.
“I kept praying, ‘Either show me that this isn’t right or help me to dedicate myself to it completely so I can do it the best way possible,’” he continues. “It’s gotta be one or the other. There’s no more questioning it. I either have to walk away from it completely or just give myself to it completely. So I’m completely rededicated to this artistic calling.”
On the BillBrother Ali plays the Fox Theatre on Dec. 5 and 6. Doors at 8:30 p.m. With The Grouch, Los Rakas and Eligh. Tickets are $16.50 in advance, $20 day of show. 1135 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-3399.