Brother Ali: The day I met Dr. Cornel West

Categories: Brother Ali
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Photo by Daniel Yang
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Cover Story: Brother Ali in his own words


Talk to Rhymesayers royalty Brother Ali lately and he's likely to sound like he's on the campaign trail. In a sense, he is. On Tuesday, September 18, music fans will have an important decision to make. The right one would be to pick up Ali's fifth album, Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, for a better tomorrow.

Gimme Noise spoke to Ali in this week's cover story, which does a lot to talk about his experiences and state of mind while creating and awaiting release of the album. He went to Mecca and he went to jail. But another story didn't fit in there. He met one of his heroes, Princeton scholar Dr. Cornel West, and recorded him for the album. The story of their meeting, as told by Ali, is below.

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Brother Ali: My wife bought me a Kindle -- because I can't read regular stuff at the speed that most people, and I can make the words bigger. While I was on tour in Europe, I kept going back to Dr. Cornel West's memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud. It spoke to me on so many different levels.

Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color has a lot to do with him. There are a few quotes and thoughts that appear throughout. At the very least, I wanted show him the stuff before I put it out and get his blessing. Not for any legal reasons, because it's not the exact words. But it's clearly inspired by him and I don't want to appropriate or steal from him.

I basically spent like two months trying to track Cornel West down. He doesn't have email. He doesn't touch the computer. Early this year, I called his assistant at Princeton. She said, "Doc gets hundreds of these every year. Write an e-mail." How do I write an email for a man who doesn't have a computer? This sounded like bullshit to me.

That night, I poured my heart out in this e-mail. I put links to some of my songs, and videos and just sent it. The next morning, my wife and I started talking about what other voices would sound cool on the album. She came up with some really good ideas, and right as we wrapped up that conversation the phone rang. I didn't look at the phone, I just picked it up and was like "This is Cornel West."

Shit. It's fierce weird. Sometimes you just know stuff like that. He was like, "I'm very busy, but I'd love to do it." I'm like, "I really wanna get this done. Please. I have a portable studio. I can set it up at an airport, at a hotel, your office, at your house. Wherever. All I need is 15 minutes." And he was like, "Well, if you're serious about that, tomorrow you can come to Princeton and do it in my office. I'll give you one hour. I don't want you to travel all this way and feel dissed when it's only one hour."
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