Interview took place at Cargo, London in 2010

G: So how’s the tour been going so far?

A: Yeah its been great, I’ve been having a lot of fun. I’m enjoying it a lot.

G: Do you notice much difference between the types of crowds you get at your shows, as you move from country to country?

A: Yeah. Germany and Scandinavia know our music pretty well and I feel like we’re just getting started there, but they’re very responsive. France, except for Paris cos they know our music and it’s great, but outside of Paris it seemed like a lot of people were there cos they heard there was music, and they didn’t know my music, they don’t speak English very well and I don’t speak French very well, so it was really interesting. The UK is really rowdy, excited and you have a lot of energy. I like it a lot.

G: That’s good to hear. The Freshest Kids track that you did last year, with Evidence and Toki Wright, went down really well; are there going to be anymore collaborations from you three, maybe an album?

A: Well its strange, man, cos we spent two months on the road together, all of us, and we started talking about making a project together. Then we started making up all these rules, like we can only sample records that we’d bought on that tour, and it just never happened. So I hope that it will, we’re definitely friends, we stay in contact and stuff like that. I know I’ll definitely work with both of them more, like I’ll definitely work with Evidence more and I’ll definitely work with Toki more, but in terms of us three all working together, I don’t know. Everyone’s so busy, man; it’s tough to make it happen.

G: Okay, sticking with the subject of collaborations, is there anyone you’d like to work with outside of hip hop, maybe a crossover project?

A: Well man, I really want to work with ?uestlove, I really, really want to make a project with ?uestlove. I think that both of us could do something that we’ve never really done before and I think we’d both enjoy it a lot. I think it’d be a great experience and I think we’d make a great product together. I really do.

G: Is that likely, have you been in contact with him?

A: I met him one time, but I don’t think it’s likely because he’s so busy doing amazing shit that’s way more successful than anything I do, y’know what I mean. So I don’t think it’d be best the way for him to manage his time, but it would be great. That would be something really special.

G: On the track “Good Lord”, you mentioned about how your music has helped spread the message of Islam to people who might not have been aware of it before. Is that something you set out to do intentionally?

A: No I don’t do that on purpose at all, and I don’t even really teach about Islam on my music. Really what that song is saying, that’s actually a song directed at Muslims who criticise my music, and its basically saying that music and spirituality are both human things, they actually should be uniting things. Like our spirituality should be uniting, not dividing us, and the same with music, I think that music and spirituality come from the same place inside us and they connect in the same way.

G: Now obviously your son Faheem has been exposed to hip hop from day one. Is he showing any signs of wanting to follow in your footsteps and is that something you actively encourage?

A: Yeah, I mean I don’t necessarily encourage it cos I feel an important part of who I am as an artist is the fact that I made my own way, and so I want him to make his own way too. But he does make music: he writes songs, he makes beats; I have a little studio setup in my house so he’s recorded some things.

G: And how old is he now?

A: Nine.

G: That is impressive! Is that younger than you started?

A: [Laughs] Yeah, but I didn’t have anyone to show me how to do it.

G: Yeah, I suppose that is the advantage. You’ve said in the past that you regret declining to comment on questions about your race earlier on in your career. Do you think that is still an issue for some people, or has your music helped draw a line under it?

A: I didn’t handle the press right in the beginning with that and it’s because I had certain feelings about it that I didn’t think they were capable of understanding and communicating. And it’s still true. For the most part they don’t understand what I’m saying, because I’ve been forced to think and reflect on race a lot through my life, constantly, and in America we don’t do that. So when they came and asked me questions about it, I didn’t want to talk to them about it, I was kinda standoffish about it. But what happened was, then they started just reporting whatever they wanted to and you know that was unfortunate, it started looking like I had said something that I didn’t say. They kept asking if I was black or white, and I think it’s obvious that I’m not black, to me it’s obvious. So I would say ‘Well what do you think?’ and whatever they’d say, I would say ‘Well then you should write that, write what you think. Don’t write like it’s a fact, write about what you think of it’ and a lot of them wrote that I was black. And I would see arguments with people online saying, ‘Ali’s white’, ‘No Ali’s black, see he said so in this article’, and I never said that, so I’ve addressed it now on my terms, for the most part, and I will continue to do that. Most people never think about race, especially white people, because they don’t have to, y’know what I mean. It’s just not part of white people’s lives that they have to worry about it, so they don’t. And so when it comes up, they’re completely lost, they’re completely incapable of understanding race from anyone’s situation but their own. It’s unfortunate, it’s too bad.

G: But do you think your music has helped people to think about that side of things, maybe start asking questions of their own?

A: I would hope so. I would hope there are people who have really listened, will think about it a little bit more and actually just seek out some experience other than their own. You know the thing is that I think a lot of white people feel guilty when they really get into race issues cos, especially in America, the reality is that America is set up for white people to have the advantages and for black people to not. And even if you’re not trying to be racist, not trying to be a part of that, you are a part of it as a white person, just by living in America. I experience privilege in America, just because I’m white and live there, whether I seek it out or not, it’s part of my life. I have advantages that my wife doesn’t have; I have advantages that my best friends don’t have; it’s just the reality, and it’s not something to necessarily feel guilty about, but the more you become human and embrace it, that’s how it changes, y’know what I mean.

[At this point someone brings a couple of bags of food over to the table]

A: Would it would be rude if I eat? I just don’t want to eat too close to when I have to go on stage and have a bunch of food in my gut. I’m already trying to rap as a fat person, it’s hard enough [Laughs]

G: Go for it, man. The last album was a lot less personal than your other material, in as much as it dealt with the stories of other people in your life, as opposed to stories directly about you. Was it a conscious effort to do that and was there a reason behind it?

A: I know what you mean when you say less personal, but I don’t know if I see it that way. Its not autobiographical like the other ones were, but it’s still my relationships with people. So I talk about some other people’s lives, their stories and their situations, but I do it based on my relationship with them. So it still is personal to me. But that was a conscious decision, yeah. I felt like me and Ant had been working so hard to make music that shows my listeners who I am and what my life has been like. On “Undisputed Truth” we just drilled it in like that, y’know what I mean, and so I was trying to do something different. But I still want it to be a natural progression and now I’ve hit a point in my life where I’m not struggling to survive and I have a little bit more fulfilment and satisfaction in my own life, naturally it made me think about all my friends and family that are still in the middle of the shit that I was in when I made those other albums. So my mind naturally went in that direction and that is the album I made.

G: And finally, what’s next for you when the tour is done?

A: More touring! I’m home for one week and then I go right back out. And I’ve been making some music with Jake One and so I think we’ll probably make an EP together.

G: Will that be anytime soon?

A: Probably in the summer. We’ll probably release six or seven songs, something like that, and put it out in the summertime. We’ve probably made like 12 songs together and we’ll probably make another twelve, then take the best five or six and put a project down. It’s a lot of fun making music with him. Like with Ant, that’s my best friend in the world and we’re really close. When we hang out round each other, our conversations are really deep and personal and so that’s what our music is. But with Jake, I mean we’re friends too, but we talk about sports, make fun of rappers and we make fun of each other; I mean, it’s a lot more light-hearted and so I really think that I can get away from making all this heavy music with Ant and just have fun rapping for a while. And then me and Ant will make another album together, and hopefully I can have a fresh start, a fresh mind coming in to it.