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Immortal Technique and Brother Ali @ The TLA.

September 30, 2013

ImmortalTechnique07Text and images by Tyler Horst.

The War & Peace Tour’s stop at the Theatre of the Living Arts felt like a community event just as much as it did a hip-hop show.

Maybe it was the energy of the crowd, or maybe it was the fact that every act from the opener to the closer made an honest effort to really connect. Ringleaders Brother Ali and Immortal Technique have said over and over again that the War & Peace Tour is meant to show that music that carries a social message and is critical of the world is not only important but also commercially viable.

They may be right about that but they also successfully demonstrated that such music is just a downright good time.

BrotherAli02Brother Ali literally shook the floor with his bouncy, bass-heavy grooves.  They’re a nice compliment to his deliberately enunciated, story-teller’s delivery.  The man doesn’t beat around the bush lyrically – you always know exactly what he’s trying to say – but that doesn’t make him any less interesting.

He said Philly is one of his many second homes and he put any doubts about this claim’s legitimacy to rest after name-dropping everybody in the local scene from Beanie Sigel to Reef the Lost Cauze, even bringing out fellow bearded emcee and Philly native Jakk Frost.  Ali, a devout Muslim, treated his performance like a revival meeting, exhorting the crowd to proclaim their love for hip-hop and taking time in between songs to preach love and acceptance in a racially and economically divided country.

If Brother Ali represents the “Peace” half of the tour, then Immortal Technique embraces his role as “War.”  Though he shares Ali’s vision of social justice, Tech’s lyrics and beats are exponentially more brutal. Nowhere is this edge more apparent then in the haunting narrative of “Dance With the Devil,” which he performed with chilling honesty.  Immortal Technique dug into his entire catalog, most of which was produced independently long before that was such an easy thing to do, and made sure to encourage fans along the way to go home and get it all for free online. Tech also challenged audience members to not take his live performance at face value and use it as an excuse to get drunk on a Sunday night but rather to take away from it some tools to fight a war for social justice.

Neither artist was shy about getting their message across on stage but we got a little bit more in-depth with Brother Ali before the show:

With only a week left of the tour, can you comment on its success or failure thus far?

It’s been a great run. We did the whole country. There have been a lot of sold out shows, and the ones that aren’t sold out are packed. A lot of great energy. People are just thirsty for music that has a message.

What do you like about performing in Philly?

The people are just very genuine here. People think that people from Philly are rude but they’re not; they’re just really straight up. If you make a friend in Philly, that’s really your friend, and if they  don’t like you then they’re just like, “Why are you talking to me?” And I don’t mind that at all.  Also, I just love the city itself. I live in Minneapolis but I have three cities that are homes away from home: Seattle, Chicago and Philly. I’m with some of my favorite friends when I go to those places.

What‘s it like to tour with Immortal Technique?

It’s cool. We believe in the same things. Our hearts are in the same place but we have different tactics for how we do it. And it’s because we’ve had very different lives. I’m from Minnesota and he’s from Harlem. Our realities have been different but they both have led us to the same place.

Will you be collaborating with him more in the future?

I never do a collaboration as a calculated endeavor. All of them are natural and organic. I’ve been friends with Technique for years, so if he’ll send me a song I’ll do it.

Some people believe that hip hop, especially in the underground, is moving toward being post-racial.  Do you see that happening?

I think that “post-racial” is the worst instrument of racism that there’s ever been. The most advanced evil is the evil that makes you think that it’s not there. It’s the cancer that you won’t get checked out. I think White America is really having a field day with the “post-racial” idea, and basically its an opportunity to opt out of white guilt. But it’s deadly. And I don’t just mean deadly to communities of color but it’s deadly for America as a whole to not take steps to cure the disease that we’ve had since the beginning.

Is the “post-racial” idea racist because it ignores differences?

It allows us to quietly consent to the white supremacy that we have. When we say “white supremacy” we think of a guy with a swastika tattooed on his head burning a cross and reading Mein Kampf but it really means that the best of anything doled out by the people in power go to white people. And there’s never been one day in America’s history that hasn’t been the case. It’s not enough to stop practicing racism on an inter-personal basis. Racism is in all of our institutions that affect our lives in enormous ways.  All of the important people in my life are black but I still benefit from racism every day. Me saying I’m not racist doesn’t do anything for anybody but myself.

“Post-racial” just means, “I’m done thinking about this. I’m not going to acknowledge it.” And that’s the most user-friendly definition of what “privilege” is – anything that you have the ability to ignore is a privilege.

You‘ve said in your songs that “a life is a life.”  When we‘re constantly hearing about things that are violent in our society, do you think it‘s possible now for a culture of non-violence to survive?

I would push for a culture of justice. I think that there will always be violence, but letting justice and morality be the driving force of our society will be the best way to live.

In order to think that you’re more valuable than somebody else and you’re both human, you have to devalue the overall stock on humanity. If you do that, then you’re living out of your humanity. You can’t enslave people. You can’t steal their land, have a rape culture or have a perpetual military-industrial complex if you’re living through the lens of your humanity.

Unfortunately, you can‘t have this kind of conversation with every person at a show, so what do you want fans to take away from your performances?

I have this refrain in my shows – it’s similar to church – where I just want to make sure people are engaged. Several times during the show I’ll say, “Are you having a good time tonight?  Say, ‘Yes I am.’ Do you feel good in here tonight? Say, ‘Yes I do.’  Did you come here to party?  Say, ‘Yes I did.’  Do you love hip-hop?  Say, ‘Yes I do.’” I used to teach kindergarten, and that’s where I got that.

You hear all the time this rosy idea that “music brings people together,” which is kind of true but I’m trying to challenge people to not just physically be in a space together.

Brother Ali, thank you for your time.

Thank you for giving me space to talk.

One Comment
  1. September 30, 2013 6:28 pm

    Reblogged this on Humongulous and commented:
    Check out this interview with the great Brother Ali I did for JUMP Magazine.

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