Brother Ali recalls Shadows on the Sun on its 10th anniversary

Categories: Q&A

Photo by Jeff Henrikson
It's hard to believe that this month marks a decade since Rhymesayers released Brother Ali's proper debut Shadows on the Sun. Produced entirely by Ant of Atmosphere, the album was an immediate statement of the aesthetic that Ali has since shared far and wide. (Technically, the cassette Rites of Passage preceded it, but that was released with very limited circulation.)

Ahead of his taping of an episode of The Lowertown Line this week and a slot at Soundset later this month, Gimme Noise spoke to Ali about Shadows' development, and how he's grown since its release.

See Also:
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Gimme Noise: At what point did recording for Shadows on the Sun the album begin?

As soon as I got with Rhymesayers. I brought them Rites of Passage, and Siddiq and Musab and I were friends, and they introduced me to Ant, who seemed reluctant to work with me. He made it clear he thought I was talented, but I don't think necessarily saw the kind of songs I wanted to write. But, he said we could try something out. At that time I used to write songs in my head, and the first two songs I brought him that we deliberately made together were "Room With a View" and "Bitchslap."

After those first two songs, did the once-a-week routine of recording begin?

After we made those first two songs, Ant was like "OK, I can give you the beats that Slug won't rap on and won't sound right on," the styles he made that Slug never gravitated towards that I loved. I used to beg him to get his throwaway beats until he said "this is what you need" and gave me a cassette tape of stuff. I came back the next week with two more songs and the weeks proceeded like that.

Do you recall which songs those were?

I know we did the rap-heavy songs earlier. Then, after that I did the more humorous songs. I went through that phase, then I did the two stories. I got progressively deeper and closer to my core, and near the end I made "Picket Fence," which is was the first time I felt completely naked on a song that I had felt I came completely into my own. Somewhere in there I made "Victory" and the title track, my early social-commentary songs that wanted to say something important without knowing how to do it. I think the jury was still out with Slug. He wouldn't dis me at all, and he let me know when he thought something I made was cool, but he didn't embrace me until that album was almost done.

We wrote "Blahblahblah" together in a half-hour, which was fun, and "Missing Teeth" were two verse we had we put on a song together. The very last song we made on accident was "Forest Whitiker." Ant was looking for a beat and accidentally played me this unfinished one I kinda liked. I wrote it just to make him laugh. So much of our work was me trying to get his approval. Nobody reacted to it in the studio anymore than anything else, but it became the song people gravitated to. It and "Uncle Sam" are still my two biggest songs.

Were there any songs that didn't make the album?

There's 18 songs on there, and I think we made 20. A song called "Heads Down" wound up on the Champion EP. We felt we didn't need another humorous song on the album. In terms of recording, we made the album on his four-track, and then did everything in the studio in eight or ten days. Ant's transitions on that album are really great and to me are what make that album. It's really a variety of music that Ant pulled all together without being formulaic.

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