A killer from the schoolyards of Minnesota

The music-as-a-weapon metaphor has clichd itself to death–right beside love’s red roses and death’s cold hands.

But imagine this: You’re 15 years old, you’ve just moved to a new city and you have to explain to a war zone of bullies and brats that the recessive genes passed on to you by your parents caused a genetic malfunction that prevents your body from creating enough melanin to color your skin.

In these very shoes, hip-hop became Brother Ali’s primary weapon. And the battle raps he birthed above those cold Minnesota schoolyards still burn with the angst and alienation of his youth.

Only now, Ali has transformed the taunts of childhood mockery into torrents of critical and popular applause.

“People react to songs that I have about my own personal experience, even if they don’t have the same experiences,” Ali said–just days before jumping into his van for a month on the road in support of his latest release, The Undisputed Truth.

Ali’s skill shines less as a battle-rapper, hip-hop preacher or pop-hook crafter and more as a normal person speaking to a world of normal people through a medium that has mastered him as much as he has mastered it.

His ascent began on the strength of a 2001 cassette demo, Rites of Passage. This combined with an impressive presence in the battle-rap circuit brought Ali into the Twin Cities’ Rhymesayers Entertainment family–home to underground hip-hop celebrities Atmosphere.

Ali’s debut, Shadows on the Sun, was released in 2003 to a wave of critical acclaim. In the tradition of political rap forefathers Dilated Peoples, Ali’s street-smart, yet globally conscious, wordplay spoke to the rhythmic soul and revolutionary spirit of its listeners.

“I make what feels right to me,” Ali said. “I don’t write from the point of view that I need to teach. I write from what I think and from what I go through.”

This perspective courses through the personally charged politics of Ali’s 2007 offering, The Undisputed Truth. The impending pressures of global chaos, much like the social pressures of his childhood, have placed Ali back on the offensive.

“I talk about the things that have always been on my mind, but now, more than ever, they’re brash and in your face,” Ali said.

His anger resounds in the inevitably controversial war-cry and Undisputed Truth standout track, “Uncle Sam God****.”

As Ali chants, “Welcome to the united snakes/ Land of the thief, home of the slave,” it becomes clear that this master of ceremonies possesses the rare ability to craft hooks sharp enough to slice through the gold chains of mainstream rap.

However, where most rappers see the diverse spectrum of hip-hop–from backpacking, hip-hop purists to crib-bred blingstas–as an issue of genre, Ali sees a gradient.

“I’m not really a fan of saying what’s hip-hop or what’s not. I grew up with hip-hop from 1984 and I like all its parts. Who am I to say that Dilated Peoples is hip-hop but Atmosphere is not, or that Chingy is hip-hop but Atmosphere is not?” Ali said.

Ali’s dedication to the arsenals of his craft is anything but clich.

In his own words: “There’s nothing else that I care about the way I care about hip-hop.”

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Brother Ali’s underground hip-hop gets up close and personal tonight at Urban Lounge.