The Living Legends, a loose collective of MCs and DJs from Oakland/San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Japan, and Europe. They are unique for both their down-to-earth songs and approach to the music business. One of the leaders of the DIY movement during the late 90’s, the Legends also chose to stay independent from record labels, joining the likes of Rhymesayers and Def Jux. After a four year hiatus since they last co-headlined Paid Dues in 2012, w/ Wu-Tang and Odd Future, the Living Legends are making their comeback to the stage starting in November 2015 at the Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival.
The founding nucleus of the Living Legends, The Grouch, Sunspot Jonz, and Luckyiam, met in 1995 and soon after embarked on the first of a long series of self-funded tours abroad to Europe and Japan. Upon their return, they met up with a trio called 3MG or Three Melancholy Gypsies (MURS, Eligh, and Scarub) who had broken off from their Los Angeles-based group Log Cabin of the Good Life Cafe and reunited in Oakland. The sextet officially formed Living Legends in 1996 (along with Aesop and Bicasso) and gained national recognition for their self made and distributed releases, totaling over 20 in 97-99 alone.
As their fame grew, the Legends tirelessly visited the US, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Over the next 8 years the group would go on to release seven albums as Living Legends and over 100 titles as either individuals or sub-groups, selling well over a million units and maintaining the independent business model. One of the groups leaders, Murs would eventually found the world renowned Paid Dues Festival which was a festival celebrating independent artists and grew to 30k attendees in 2012. The festival hosted performers such as Kendrick Lamar, Odd Future, De La Soul, Rakim, Black Hippy, Atmosphere, Wu-Tang, Heiroglyphics, Ice Cube, Dilated Peoples, DJ Quick, Macklemore, and many many more.
For the first time in his life, Brother Ali has been enjoying some day-to-day stability. Gone is the turbulent marriage to his first wife, homelessness, and the associated drama—all of which Ali openly documented on his last LP, The Undisputed Truth.
His new album, Us, is a progression that will establish Brother Ali as one of Hip Hop’s most enduring figures. While maintaining his intimate approach to songwriting, Ali has broadened his focus to examine life through his relationships with those closest to him. The new direction allows Ali to venture through the strengths and flaws of the human condition, exploring the evils of slavery, drug abuse, rape and poverty as well as the beauty of love, family and redemption.
Continuing the tradition of Ali’s previous albums, Us is produced entirely by long time partner Ant (Atmosphere, Felt) who provides enchanting mixtures of lush strings, and haunting choirs with the grinding pulse of funk-inspired synth bass and talk box. Giving Ali the perfect musical bed to deliver his commanding and ever thought provoking musings.
This new approach was hinted at on Ali’s most recent EP, The Truth Is Here, on the funked-up track “Little Rodney” where he says in the chorus, “If ya’ll trying to talk about the horrors you see / tell your stories through me.” As Ali says, “there are individuals that are doing okay, but a lot of the people around me and many I care about are still going through the same thing…things haven’t changed for them.”
Us opens with “Brothers And Sisters” as the legendary Chuck D (Public Enemy) introduces Brother Ali as the speaker for the evening accompanied by a live Gospel choir and Stokley Williams (Mint Condition). Ali uses songs like “House Keys” and “Games” to illustrate how easy it is get caught up and trapped by drugs and hustling. “These are people that could be your friends,” explains Ali about those in his new material. “This is not just a statistic…this is real life and real people.”
“The Travelers”, is a multi-viewed look at slavery in America. Ali paints the picture of both the hardship faced by slaves being forcibly removed from their lives but also the effect this had on white America who has inherited a shameful legacy. “We need to really go back and acknowledge slavery for what it is, what it was at the time, and what it is in our lives, all of our lives” says Ali.
Studies of slavery and modern corner life alike make the Ali worthy of the “Street Preacher” title friends have given him. Yet amid his evolution on Us, he hasn’t forgotten about what it means to be an all around champion MC. With the bombastic “Bad Mufucker Pt II” and the Freeway (Rocafella) and Joell Ortiz (Slaughterhouse) assisted “Best@it”, Ali still celebrates the craft of MCing. “I believe there’s nothing wrong with just rapping for the sake of rapping,” says Ali, who’s still trying to be the greatest of all time.
While in many regards Ali is well on his way to that label one thing is undeniable, Brother Ali is one of the most engaging and important voices in Hip Hop right now and he and Ant have once again crafted a beautifully intelligent and entertaining album for all of Us.