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Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts Entertainment Chicago Illinois
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Brother Ali Review

Thursday Oct 04, 2012.     By Jeff D. Min
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

photo: Jeff Min
photo: Jeff Min
When Ali Newman holds court people listen. They stop. They think, and ponder. They imagine and sympathize with a struggle that isn’t their own. But it’s all the same. It’s palpable. You can feel it pull and push like some gravitational force from another planet. Many turn to one. Ali is practicing a science, a faith. He’s a preacher, and the stage—the Metro—is his pulpit.

He closes his eyes reciting raps as if they were prayers. The crowd responds in likeness—not in overt cliché gestures of yesteryear's ‘wave em like you just don’t care’ rap shows—but in deep contemplative waves. Ali speaks to everyone. He sympathizes with their condition. It’s as if he’s conversing with each person in some indefinable way. Ali is legally blind—his albinism—so he doesn't see you in the crowd. He doesn’t make eye contact. Instead he reaches the crowd the only way he knows how. Calls them by their being, and connects to them through common pains. Empathy. He asks who has Shadows on the Sun. The crowd erupts, turning to one another recalling their favorite song. He asks who has Us. The crowd erupts again. Who has Undisputed Truth, same.

photo: Jeff Min
photo: Jeff Min

Ali breaks into “Uncle Sam Goddamn.” The presidential debate is airing, and ironically here is where fans choose to seek truth. Ali is so very different. His look, perspective, and personality exist in a place far away. Yet here he is reaching out to us, spreading the gospel according to Ali. His recent trip to Mecca comes to mind. He continues, speaking in a compassionate, yet brutally honest way. There is no place for Ali in mainstream rap. Never will be.

On the stage, the backdrop displays a large American flag. It reaches from the rafters to the stage. The colors are running. Bleeding. A handful of stars and not enough stripes, the reality of the American dream. It’s ugly. But it’s the truth, a lasting image. Ali knows this, that's why his name is on it, and it makes him better, stronger—more alert to the deficiencies of a dream turned nightmare. So Ali continues to rap, even as he exits the stage he continues to rap in his mind. You can see the wheels turning. Because of Ali rap is better. The prodigal son moves on, on to the next and beyond.

photo: Jeff Min
photo: Jeff Min


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