We’re only two full months into the new year, yet 2017 has already been a complete shitshow. The orange star of The Apprentice is our Commander-in-Chief, racial tension is still at a boiling point, and personal freedoms across the board are disappearing left and right. In short, 2017 has quite a clusterfuck.
There have been, however, glimmers of hope; moments that encourage the belief that humans are inherently good. Just last week, a man in my hometown of Olathe, Kansas chased down a gunman who had just opened fire on two men of Indian descent after yelling, “get out of my country.” Across the nation, people of all colors, creeds, and walks of life are banding together in a variety of manners to combat an increasingly represented intolerance that’s been festering in the underbelly of this country for decades.
Musically and otherwise, the tension of the times has already helped to fuel potent, inspired art and action about the realities around us. Voices like Oddisee, Russell Simmons, Immortal Technique and countless others have used their voices to condemn sweeping travel bans against largely Muslim countries, and on May 5, Brother Ali’s voice will be added to that choir of righteousness.
Nearly five years after his last full-length album, Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, Rhymesayers emcee Brother Ali is set to return with All The Beauty in This Whole Life, and its release couldn’t be coming at a more important time.
As a white man who grew up in Minneapolis and converted to Islam at the age of 15, Ali has an extremely unique and valuable perspective on the current state of affairs in the United States. Brother Ali’s approach to music has always been one of loving enlightenment, a cause he’s fervently chased after realizing his own privilege and that of his mostly-white fan base.
"Now I'm at a place where most of my fans are racially privileged kids who come from middle-class environments. But they listen in a way that is really inspiring to me, and it makes me feel like I can share with them what I know society is engineered for them not to know: that not everybody experiences life like them. You know what I mean? That we are born in these privileged vessels, and we're experiencing advantages and privileges at the expense of our humanity. So I feel like that's my job, and I feel like within the last few years I fully woke up to that, found the courage to understand that, and stepped out like that." - Brother Ali, YES! Magazine, 2013
Ali’s last album was praised for being equally an aggressive indictment of the political system in the face of a string of highly-publicized murders of young black men, as well as a soothing, spiritual voice offering hope that all wounds can be mended through love and understanding.
Sadly, a handful of years later, that’s exactly the multi-faceted response we need, and Ali’s unique perspective combined with his incredible gifts as an emcee and storyteller make him an invaluable voice for healing, understanding, and unity.
Brother Ali defies all notions of prejudice without even having to speak; he’s a white man of Muslim faith, living in Minneapolis. His words and actions are not those of the extremist, terrorist-harboring Muslim caricature that’s wrongly dominated Western perception, he’s a kind, gentle man with strong ties to social activism and charity.
Ali also has a way with words that few possess, and an inherent soulfulness in his voice that demands attention and respect. All of these qualities combine to make his next project a musical offering that fans and non-fans alike could use given the current anxieties our Muslim brothers and sisters are facing on a daily basis.
As many of us do our best to facilitate peace and understanding in a time of heightened fear and prejudice, I fully expect Brother Ali’s upcoming album to be a continuation of his role as a teacher, ally, and purveyor of peace.
It’s what he’s spent his whole career doing, and in 2017, it’s needed more than ever.