Brother Ali was born in Madison, WI, and spent his early childhood moving from city to city in the midwest (mostly in Michigan).
Ali’s family settled in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1992. He attended Cooper High School in New Hope, MN. It was in Minneapolis that Ali converted to Islam and was given the name Ali (he was born Jason Newman). Brother Ali now lives in South Minneapolis, where he continues to record. He has a son, Faheem, from his first marriage, and remarried in 2008.
Albinism and Race
Brother Ali was born with a rare genetic condition called Albinism. This means he lacks the pigment that would normally give the skin, hair and eyes their color. The condition exists in all ethnic groups throughout the world. Cosmetic evidence of the condition is usually accompanied by visual difficulties.
While Brother Ali’s family is white, he has often described a childhood marked by cruelty and exclusion by his white classmates as a result of his obvious physical abnormality. He’s often explained that, from an early age, he felt most at home amongst blacks.
When Ali’s career began to blossom, he began to field questions about his race. Due to his stage name (a common reference among religious communities, particularly Muslims i.e. “Brother Jabbar”, “Sister Ayesha”), many writers assumed Ali was black. When questioned on the subject, Ali declined to comment. In hindsight Ali regards this early decision as a mistake. It was wrongly reported that Ali was black.
“Hip Hop and MCing was my life growing up. I always had dreams of making music and performing for a living. When Slug (of Atmosphere) gave me an opportunity to tour with him, I was introduced to the underground, independent Hip Hop scene. I was really surprised to find a scene where many of the artists and fans were white. I wasn’t sure how to feel about it at first. I eventually decided to just make music that was real to me and let the chips fall where they may. The thing that fucked with me were magazines and music reporters who never cared about or covered rap before this new wave of white artists. That was so incredibly wack to me. So when they got me in an interview and asked me what race I was, I didn’t know what to say. You can look at me and tell I’m not Black so, what is the question really? What are you implying? I didn’t answer them and they decided I must be white.” –Brother Ali, March 20, 2007
Ali released a song on his album, The Undisputed Truth called “Daylight”. The song deals with misconceptions about him and in the third verse he states:
“They ask me if I’m black or white, I’m neither
Race is a made up thing, I don’t believe in it
But my genes tie me to those that despise me
Made a livin’ killing the ones that inspired me
I ain’t just talkin’ bout singing and dancing
I was taught life and manhood by black men
So I’m a product of that understanding and a small part of me feels like I am them
Does that make a liar? Maybe.
But I don’t want the white folks that praise me to think that they can claim me
Cause you didn’t make me
You don’t appreciate what I know to be great yet, you relate to me
And that frustrates me and what can I say?
Cause I know that I benefit from something I hate
But make no mistake our connection ain’t fake
It’s never too late to clear off the slate
If you follow my tapes then you know what I’m about
If something comes up then it must come out “