Brother Ali Talks Hip-Hop at Chicago Ideas Week

Marshall Franklin

From the outside looking in, when most people see hip-hop rapper and activist Brother Ali, they’d assume he’s Caucasian. And they would be correct.  However, growing up feeling like an outcast as a legally blind Albino, Ali found that  it was the African American community who embraced him.

“I learned everything from the African American community, it was like I was adopted,” says Brother Ali.

Speaking alongside other industry voices at Chicago Ideas Week (October 14-20), Brother Ali will deconstruct how hip-hop impacts us today.

“This is a great opportunity for getting my ideas heard and networking,” he says.

Brother Ali will be talking about hip-hop inequality and breaking it down to pose the question of whether it is a cultural catalyst or colonial consumption. His plan is to challenge people looking for an authentic hip-hop experience.

The rapper plans to break down hip-hop into sections: 1) The Appetizer, which is the light hearted and happy rap; 2) The Meat, which is the artistic excellence type of music; 3) The Vegetables, which is the music with goals or purpose; and finally 4) The Dessert, which is music about sex, weed, etc.

He stresses how hip-hop now is based around ‘The Dessert” with labels trying to fit in and compete. He sees it as the corporate structure making hip-hop more associated with media gratification and pleasure. Hence the reason most artists are now becoming independent. This idea of colonialism stripping people’s souls and creativity is his metaphor for it.

“There is still meaningful music being made though, you just have to search for it,” Brother Ali says.

Using his life’s experiments, Brother Ali has certainly made a name for himself in the hip-hop industry. Although now shifting to rap with a bit more substance, he does feel his fans liked it better when he was more personal. But he feels he is part of the group of independent artists who built the model for how they live now.

The “Hip-Hop: Movement Beyond the Music” section of Chicago Ideas Week will be held on October 19 from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Cadillac Palace Theatre 151 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601. Tickets are $15 per person. For more information, please visit