Bonus Cuts: Brother Ali breaks down Macklemore's Same Love and Thrift Shop
Every once in a while an interview takes an interesting detour that doesn't quite fit within the bounds of a traditional concert preview. For those moments we present Bonus Cuts.
Earlier this year, Brother Ali appeared on Sway in the Morning and dropped one of most subtle (and devastating) freestyle slams of 2014, taking direct aim at Seattle rapper Macklemore without once uttering his name. Watch Ali's performance in the video below and note the developing rhyme pattern: "map before"; "can't ignore"; "mask you wore."
In a late October interview, Ali, who performs at Skully's Music-Diner on Monday, Nov. 10 (read our preview here), expounded on the sentiments that inspired the verse, and his issues with Macklemore songs like "Same Love" and "Thrift Shop."
"That [Sway in the Morning verse] was about Macklemore. I've had conversations with him about his use of coded conversations from white artist to white listener about being morally superior. He's adding logs to the fire of the dominant narrative that white people have better character, and are more moral, more just and more sincere.
"In his song 'Thrift Shop' he's criticizing hip-hop and saying, 'These people are so materialistic, and I'm not like that. I shop at thrift stores, and that makes me a better person than them.' He's talking as someone who grew up never missing a meal versus somebody who grew up with an entire society saying, 'You're never going to have a piece of this American pie.' Then you get a few individuals that get rich because of how talented they are and they're not supposed to buy something nice and celebrate that? If [Public Enemy's] Chuck D or Chris Rock wants to talk to that community and wants to criticize, that's their role. And they do. The black community has plenty of people who criticize from within.
"'Same Love' is a song about marriage equality, but that whole middle verse is about hip-hop and how hip-hop is homophobic (sample lyric: "If I was gay, I would think hip-hop hates me"). When a white person says that to a white audience it's code for 'black people are homophobic.' He's basically saying, 'Black people ought to know better because they were discriminated against.' And this is not his place to say.
"If you want to make a song about homophobia start with you; don't start with hip-hop. Start with who you really are. Macklemore is an upper middle class white guy from the suburbs, and that's who's listening to his music. The hip-hop world isn't jumping up and down in love with Macklemore. So don't criticize people that aren't even listening to you.
"In the last verse he talks about [homophobia] as someone who grew up in the church, and that's where he needs to stay. Criticize yourself. Every group I criticize, they're all groups I'm in. If I talk about Americans or I talk about men or I talk about straight people, I'm talking about groups I'm in. That's the only way to do anything. You have to look at a problem and say, 'What part of this problem am I?' Start with that. That's the part you can change immediately."