“It’s really about showcasing or spotlighting people’s greatness in spite of everything that’s fucked up,” says rapper Brother Ali of his music. When Ali takes the stage at the Blind Pig tonight, concertgoers can expect to hear rhymes evoking a basic sense of human triumph over adversity.

Brother Ali

At the Blind Pig
Tonight, 9:30 p.m.

With songs that tackle tough issues like homelessness and drug abuse, Brother Ali doesn’t like the oft-used term “positive” in reference to his style. But his ultimately hopeful message makes Ali one of the more uplifting messengers from the underground rap world.

Ali’s latest release Us explores themes of connection and shared humanity with stories from his own life as well as those from people close to him.

“If your mother has cancer, you don’t have cancer but you live with that cancer too, ’cause you go through it with (her),” Ali explains regarding Us. “I was wondering if I could channel the stories of the people around me in that same way, and talk about my relationships with people in different situations, and hope that the listener feels connected to them as well.”

The subjects Brother Ali explores on Us run the gamut from annoying neighbors to sexual abuse, with time left over for some lines proving his “Bad Mufucker” status.

And his themes of shared experiences and community persist outside the studio — Ali records on the Rhymesayers label along with the group Atmosphere, whose producer Ant collaborates in writing Ali’s music.

“(Of the Rhymesayers crew) I’ve seen the most success in the artists that really stay close to everybody else … and stay tied in to the family aspect,” Ali notes.

Now nearing the end of his Fresh Air tour, Ali has spent the last few months on the road with labelmates Toki Wright, Evidence and BK-One, so one can imagine he’s pretty keyed in to that “family aspect.”

Ali speaks in a thick, melodic tone that could easily have led him into preaching if the rap career hadn’t taken off. But after releasing four LPs to much acclaim from critics and audiences alike, Ali is living the good life and isn’t likely to turn it in any time soon.

Religion is one of two sticky issues for Ali, who converted to Islam as a young man in Minnesota. The other is race. Brother Ali has albinism — and in a genre so heavily dominated by race relations, his racial identity is always a focal point.

“I’ve been touring professionally, full-time, since 2002, and that’s still in the first paragraph of every article that’s written about me,” Ali points out. “He’s a Muslim and he’s albino, Jesus Christ! … There’s obviously so much more to the story than that.”

Ali isn’t mad, but he does seem tired of the brouhaha over his condition. And really, his unique background is only important in its effect on the way he sees the world. Ali has said that, growing up, he felt more at home among non-whites. Perhaps his songs are all-encompassing because of this — “The Travelers,” for instance, comments on slavery’s effects on everyone involved, black and white.

“It’s the way that I’ve always seen it, just by being close to both sides,” Ali says of the track. “Everybody involved in a terrible crime like (slavery) is affected… (and) we’ve never examined it in a comprehensive way.”

That may be so, but Brother Ali’s message-driven music delves into that conversation and many others. His personal, spiritual vibe may not leave audiences feeling “positive” per se. But it’s hard not to be impressed by the doctrine of human “greatness” — the amazing ability to survive and connect — that Ali preaches.

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