Brother Ali explains City Pages slam, lynching lyric


The rapper's verses in the Welcome to Minnesota Tour all-star promo track turned some heads last week.

Leave it to Brother Ali to turn a love letter to Minnesota into an “I love you, but…” letter. The always thought-provoking rapper perked up more ears than usual with his rather incendiary verses in the new Slug-led all-star track “It Ain’t the Prettiest” (posted below), which Rhymesayers dropped last week to promote the third annual Welcome to Minnesota Tour. Among the topics covered in his lyrics are an accusation that City Pages improperly referenced the N-word last summer and a reminder of 1920’s public lynching of three African American men in Duluth. Not exactly the most welcoming look at Minnesota.

“We are a progressive state with very warm-hearted people, that’s true,” Ali said, wanting to explain the lyrics after receiving many questions and tweets and about it, “but there’s another, darker side to this state that often gets buried.”

“Progressive black congressman / But we also got Michele Bachmann,” he rhymes in “It Ain’t the Prettiest,” intending to paint a yin/yang picture. That’s hardly the shocking part. In one line, he describes a scene where “black bodies dangle off the pole at night,” and then he goes on to say this about the Twin Cities’ alt-weekly newspaper: “City Pages cover what the poets write / But call a dead black baby the N-word overnight.”

The latter lyrics stem from coverage of the fatal June shooting of 5-year-old Nizzel George in north Minneapolis. Amid the many reports in the days after this summer’s most disheartening local tragedy, City Pages staff writer Aaron Rupar dropped in a reference to “nizzel” being Snoop Dogg-propagated slang for the N-word. Rupar later wrote an apology, but Ali and other activists still fault editors for backing out of a public discussion of the incident on the North Side. Ali said he was extra-miffed since he happened to adorn the cover of City Pages two months later. He claims he granted the interview/photos with the stated intent of discussing the topic in the interview, but his statements on the matter were left out of the article.

“That’s what I mean by the line about them ‘covering what the poets write,’” Ali said. “City Pages has played a big role in making us known as a great hip-hop city, but they have to be accountable for the way they cover the community.”

City Pages staff did not respond to a request for comment.

As for the reference to the 1920 lynching -- the three murdered circus workers were wrongly accused of raping a white girl -- Ali said, “Most Minnesotans don’t know" that one of the last public lynchings in a northern state was here. "That’s something that shouldn’t be buried under the rug,” he said. Bob Dylan apparently agrees. The first line of “Desolation Row” (“They’re selling postcards of the hanging”) also references the lynching, which Dylan’s Duluth-reared dad Abe Zimmerman paid witness to as a child.

The Welcome to MN 3 tour’s March 2 stop at Clyde Iron Works in Duluth was just announced as sold-out this morning. The tour’s March 5 finale at First Avenue sold out in under an hour last week.

[Photo: Leslie Plesser]