In the title track from his new album, Us, Brother Ali raps, “Started rhyming just to be somebody/ To make people notice me at the party/ And not be just a new kid that’s albino/ Make ’em say, ‘Yeah, but have you heard him rhyme, though?’”
He goes on to say that now that he’s touring all over the world he can hardly believe his luck. But don’t think that this is going to turn into a story about his glamorous new life of fame and wealth. In “Fresh Air,” over a ’70s-sounding funk groove, he raps about how much he loves his wife and kids and about how a couple of years ago he was homeless, crashing on friends’ couches. Now he owns his own home and he ends his nights “crashing on the couch with Conan.” He then goes into what may be the first hip-hop depiction of a real estate closing: “Shoulda seen when they handed me the keys/ I still couldn’t believe that it was mine/ Baby, hurry up, let’s leave before these damn people change their minds.”
This is not the kind of machismo, egomania, or dysfunction you might expect from Kanye West or Eminem. Brother Ali is one of the biggest stars of the vibrant, tight-knit, musically ambitious, but always humble Minneapolis/St. Paul hip-hop scene. Ali, who really is an albino, looks and sounds like no one else. And he uses those qualities to get your attention so that he can make the point that we’re all the same. That’s a refreshing message for hip-hop. Or any kind of music.
The Grouch also performs.
BROTHER ALI: Sound Wave, Thursday, December 2, 8 p.m. 858-320-2100.