My Sit Down with Jamal Ali
“You see you wouldn’t ask why the rose that grew from the concrete had damaged petals. On the contrary, we would all celebrate its tenacity. We would all love it’s will to reach the sun. Well, we are the rose – this is the concrete – and these are my damaged petals. Don’t ask me why, thank God nigga, ask me how!”
- Tupac, ‘The Rose that Grew from Concrete’
Finding your voice as a human being is hard; finding your voice as an artist is even harder. This is the struggle faced by young artists today; especially up and coming young black men that choose to undertake rapping as a career. On one hand, they are facing a world who has its’ own ideas and preconceptions about who they are. On the other hand, they often have to deal with industry figures who also have ideas and misconceptions about who these young artists should be in order to succeed in a music business career. These pressures are very real and often sway young men (and women) still striving to discover their voice. The struggle facing young artists, especially young black men, is one that is not discussed enough. It’s easy to talk about the indiscretions and the lyrics do not live up to the standards of many; but how often do we discuss the conditions that create these lyrics? Not every rapper is a wannabe gangster; many are just rapping about the things they’ve seen or experienced. Instead of tackling the root cause, many simply condemn the symptoms; or as Tupac said, ask why instead of how. I recently got the opportunity to sit down and discuss this subject with an up and coming independent rapper named Jamal Ali who is not only creating an independent business, but is also creating an independent voice. Check it out below.
Elijah Adefope: What made you want to make music?
Jamal Ali: Growing up, I loved music. My oldest and youngest brothers were musicians. My oldest brother would babysit us growing up and all he listened to was music, mainly Michael Jackson. I would watch all of Michael Jackson’s videos and movies with my oldest brother. I was inspired by that. As I got a little older, I started listening to music from artists like Bob Marley, Tupac, Nelly, Juvenile, Jay Z, Common, Lil Wayne, Drake and Kanye West. Inspired by a mixture of music, I started making music. It helps me to escape. It puts me in a creative zone, it helps me express myself, gives me perspective and tells my story.
Elijah Adefope: What messages are you trying to get out through your music?
Jamal Ali: Many of my messages comes from my real life experiences. I try to be as transparent as I can and just simply make great music.
Elijah Adefope: How did Hurricane Katrina affect your music?
Jamal Ali: Hurricane Katrina drastically affected my life especially my music. It was an outlet; a serene place to escape with all of the changes that were happening in my life. I was around 12 years old when Hurricane Katrina hit. My mother was a single parent of five. My father was absent at the time and I was trying to put the pieces together. I had begun to write stories ever since kindergarten, but I really became serious about rap during this time. I began to freestyle and found that this is something I loved to do.
Elijah Adefope: What are some mistakes you’ve made when making music in the past?
Jamal Ali: Some mistakes I’ve made in the past when making music is including others that didn’t see my vision. I take responsibility for some of these mistakes because I formed a team but I didn’t have the knowledge of how to delegate duties to properly make the team function. Several of my teammates were inspiring artists as well. So this caused a big strain on our team causing the team to split.
Elijah Adefope: What made you want to change the things you talk about in your music?
Jamal Ali: Maturity and staying true to how I was raised. I was once asked a question, “do you want to make music with the same sound that others have created or do you want to make music that would create your own sound?” I was given the advice to create your own lane, be a trend setter, and make a difference in the lives of others. I thought about great artists like Michael Jackson, Bob Marley and Tupac whose music still makes a great impact on the lives of people today. This in all honesty made me begin to consider the music I wanted to talk about.
Elijah Adefope: Why do you think a lot of young artists feel the pressure to talk about the same things that everyone else talks about?
Jamal Ali: I don’t want to seem judgmental, because some of the music I’ve made in the past was considered to be the norm. However, when looking at the music industry from where I was in the past, it seems as if these were the things to say to get recognition. I believe many artists today feels the same way. I believe that your foundation has to be solid in the music industry and you can take pointers from those that have become successful in the industry, but you have to have a vision of your own. Mainstream rappers shouldn’t be your blueprint.