After a five year hiatus, socially aware intellectual heavyweight and US rapper, Brother Ali, was in London to perform on the UK leg of his “Own Light” tour. Brother Ali is expecting his third child in December, so I took the opportunity to pick his brains on all things fatherhood, with a little bit of music talk thrown in for good measure.
Here’s what he had to say.
Can you speak about that magical moment when you first held your child/children?
I have a son who’s seventeen and a daughter who’s nine, with another on the way in December, and although I was there for the birth of my son, I actually delivered my daughter so that was incredible. Those moments were beyond description, and I think that feeling is kinda universal for all fathers out there.
How did having children change you?
I had my son when I was twenty two, so I was young. What I found was it grew my sense of urgency for wanting to build a business reality around the things I believe in and the things that I do. Before I had my son I didn’t really care for money, and I’ve had times in my life when I’ve been really poor – even now, money is not the centre of my being. However when I had my son I wanted him to have a certain level of dignity and so I had to be serious about my business reality.
How do you juggle being away so much with your family life?
It’s a constant struggle; the push and pull of being with your family and spending time with them vs the need to provide. And, given the nature of my work, for me to provide I have to be away.
I’ve always said that pain is a part of life, and the difference between a wound and trauma is that we oftentimes have no control over our trauma, and are the victims in it. However the pain of being away from my family is something that once you make a reality, is still painful, but doesn’t have to be traumatic for either of us.
Chuck D is someone I’m really close to, and he always said that what you need to do is always let your family know when you’re leaving, and when you’re coming home, and do everything in your power to make that happen. That way everyone has a feeling that they are in on what you’re doing, and are a part of it, not only are they considered, but they are at the centre of it
Do your kids want to follow in your footsteps and make waves in music?
My son at the moment is making music, but he doesn’t want mine or my friends help, he wants to make his own path. I respect that, but at the same time I think as he grows he will understand that part of being a man is also being able to accept and be grateful for things that are available to you.
How have your own experiences affected you as a father?
When I was younger I grew up with having friends who were murdered, or went to prison, so when I see my son sometimes exhibiting certain behaviours that I feel remind me of those situations, I respond with a sense of urgency and desperation that he can’t understand and cannot contextualise.
We’re gonna make mistakes, a lot of which is from trauma we’ve experienced, especially people from oppressed groups or those who’ve experienced family trauma. We may not realise but those traumatic experiences form the way we deal with things and we need to be aware of that, something that can help with that is trying to make peace with those involved, whether it’s our fathers, mother or whoever. Get to know your parents, understand their stories and the things they did and do.
How do you find the crowds in England?
I’ve been to England a few times and of course every city has been different and so has the demographic, but the thing I really like is just how engaged everyone is with the lyrics and what I’m saying. As a writer that is really validating and I’ve always enjoyed myself. The music is also very important though as it provide the emotional canvas and the mood that inspires the lyrics.
Who do you enjoy musically in the UK?
I really like Akala and what he’s doing but in general I don’t really follow a lot of music at all. As I’ve grown I’ve tended to consume music differently, I don’t constantly consume music in the way that I did when I was younger, and it’s not been a conscious choice, but more that I have music that are for specifics purposes. I value it more now and I’ve become aware of the effect that music has on my heart, so the what, where and when of consumption has become very intentional now.
It was great catching up with Brother Ali whose new album ‘All the beauty in this whole life’ is available now.
By James Roach