Minneapolis features prominently in this Village Voice examination of why underground hip hop is so white. It's both interesting and refreshing that the article doesn't once bring up Brother Ali's race. (I used to get calls all the time from national journalists asking, "Is Slug black?" I'd be like, "What am I, 'Plessy versus Ferguson'?" Now I get similar questions about Ali. Sometimes, in the name of fighting racism, we forget that race doesn't exist.)
The only place on the net I've seen Ali discuss his identity is here, in the following interview exchange:
If you look at the media, they market things and exploit the product. If Rhymesayers or another label was to try and take your ethnicity and do something with that, would you try and support that because you want your music to be heard, or would you oppose it, and why?
First of all, I bet $150 million that can�t none of y�all accurately judge what my ethnicity is. The marketing would be a bitch. Second of all, no. We don�t want to use that as the main thing to market our music. It seems that a lot of people that interview me end up with that being their whole motherfucking piece. Like I had one [interviewer] at home in Minneapolis do that to me just recently. Actually, he did the whole thing on me being albino. So we talked about that for the first three minutes of the interview and then for the rest of the interview we talked about real shit. And so basically he used quotes from those first three minutes for the whole motherfucking article. I think the reason is that with the advanced racism we have in the world - especially the United States - people are still so much trained to view people by race, which is different from ethnicity. Race is a made-up thing. I think a lot of times people - they understand a lot better, it�s a lot easier for them, if they can put somebody in a racial background. We like to think about things in categories because it takes out a lot of the mental work. If you can put something in a category, and you know where it is, you leave it there, and that�s where you want it to be. It makes it easier for you to relate to it. When you can�t do that, it requires a lot more thought; you have to be a lot more objective. You have to think a lot more about how you�re going to relate to this thing, how you�re going to view it, and how you�re going to perceive it. So I think because of that, a lot of people struggle with me, to try to nail me down racially, or try to understand the albino thing more, but the reality is� I think me as a musician speaks a lot more than just that. So to try to use that as a gimmick you would pigeon-hole me into just that. It would make my shit a lot shorter. It might make it quicker, you know, if we really pushed that and played that up, you know, it might get me a lot of [snapping fingers] quick attention, but there�s no long life in that. After the novelty wears off, all you have left is songs. And all you have left is albums. And all you have left is live performances, which is really what we�re more about.
Yeah we asked Slug about that, who�s actually light-skinned black -
Slug is what almost all of us on Rhymesayers are, which is a mixture of different shit, including black, including white, including Native American. Almost everybody on Rhymesayers is a mixture of some different shit, and a lot of times we�re seen by white people as white rappers.
Puts you in a bit of a stereotype, doesn�t it.
It�s something we have to work with, but I mean, I�m not white.