One of Minnesota's best-known rappers is featured on a re-imagined version of one of the best-loved folk-rock albums of all time, and he sweetly opened up about the experience over the weekend.
Brother Ali makes a short but meaningful appearance on "Tea for the Tillerman 2," a 50th anniversary re-recording of Cat Stevens' landmark LP self-helmed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer now known as Yusuf.
In a new Facebook post, the Minneapolis hip-hop hero called the recording "one of the great honors of my life and work."
Ali laid down a few timely verses in the makeover LP's version of "Longer Boats," featured alongside new recordings of other Yusuf/Stevens classics such as "Wild World" and "Hard Headed Woman."
Midway through the funked-up remake of the song, the rapper chimes in: "Beloved people, I come to you in the name of all things good and beautiful to remind you that now is the time to act on what is best inside us all. Our destiny is one. Let our hearts beat as one."
Turns out, Yusuf was a favorite of Ali's mother, who died of cancer in 2002. The rapper credited the folk music legend for opening up his mom's mind to Islam when — like Stevens did in 1977 — he became a practicing Muslim.
"When I converted to Islam at 15 and flipped her world upside down, one of the few things that gave her comfort was the fact that the year I was born, Cat Stevens had done the same," Ali wrote. "In the midst of it all she was worried that I might stop rappin because Cat Stevens, now Yusuf Islam had taken a long hiatus from music."
"It's been 18 years since she died of cancer so she didn't see my albums get released, me touring with the heroes she heard blasting from my room, the birth of my daughters, or my travels to Mecca and Africa. I trust The Divine Wisdom in everything, but there's a part of me that wishes I could tell her that when Shaykh Yusuf (whom she loved so much as Cat Stevens) decided to re-record Tea For The Tillerman for its 50th anniversary, he asked her son for a sample, speaking to an audience, to include in the new rendition of 'Longer Boats,' a song about banding together in hard times."
In a Rolling Stone interview about "Tea 2," Yusuf said of Ali's appearance, "He came and did his speech in the middle of it. We sent him the track and it just came back like that. We loved it. It fits perfectly."
After dropping the freestyling album "Secrets & Escapes" in 2019, Brother Ali had to put off tour dates with Open Mike Eagle this year. In May, he performed a short virtual set to benefit the Zakat Foundation of America.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658