Mahershala Ali : What's Good with Stretch & Bobbito The Oscar winning actor joins Stretch and Bobbito to talk about his career as an MC, his process for getting into character, and how his faith informs his work.
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Mahershala Ali

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Mahershala Ali

Mahershala Ali

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MAHERSHALA ALI: I was wearing out "The Infamous." I was wearing that album out.

ROBERT GARCIA, HOST:

By Mobb Deep.

ALI: Mobb Deep, oh, my God, I was wearing that album out...

GARCIA: You're making references that not a lot of our NPR listeners are aware of.

ADRIAN BARTOS, HOST:

(Laughter).

ALI: I've got you. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

GARCIA: It's OK.

ALI: I'm thinking I'm on like a late night hip-hop show.

GARCIA: (Laughter).

ALI: I'm just dropping in and out of mode with you guys. I'm sorry. I apologize.

BARTOS: We're trying to expand our horizons here...

GARCIA: (Laughter).

ALI: Yes, OK. I've got you. I've got you.

BARTOS: Mobb Deep's sophomore effort, "The Infamous"...

GARCIA: (Laughter).

ALI: We're all - there you go.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BARTOS: Yo, yo, yo, yo, yo. Hey, everybody, this is Stretch Armstrong.

GARCIA: And my name is Bobbito Garcia, aka Kool Bob Love.

BARTOS: That was Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali, one of the hottest actors around. He's our guest today on WHAT'S GOOD WITH STRETCH & BOBBITO.

GARCIA: Your source for untold stories and uncovered truths from movers and shakers around the world.

BARTOS: Mahershala was also a hip-hop artist who put out a record in 2007 on Oakland's influential Hieroglyphics Emporium label.

GARCIA: And there may be more rap in his future. But first, we're going to talk to my boy, my homie, my brother from another mother, DJ Stretch Armstrong. Stretch, we're going to ask Mahershala how music helps him prep for acting, which got me wondering. When you DJ, what do you listen to while you're getting your set together?

BARTOS: You're asking me what music I play before I DJ?

GARCIA: Yes.

BARTOS: I don't.

GARCIA: You don't?

BARTOS: No. Yo, I'm always in a rush.

GARCIA: (Laughter).

BARTOS: Like, I'm, like, rushing to get home to grab my computer. How about you, Bob?

GARCIA: I feel like I try to...

BARTOS: You try to catch a vibe before you go out?

GARCIA: Yeah, I try to - well, obviously, the thing is at the crib, I'm not going to play it loud. Whereas, when we're playing in clubs around the world with, you know, these $10,000 sound systems, it's just - you hear different things. You hear the cymbal. You hear the high hat. You hear the percussion. You hear all these things in there.

BARTOS: Absolutely. I remember I had a gig. It was a really memorable gig. It was after 9/11, and the Beastie Boys organized a benefit. It was kind of pushing back against the vilification of Islam and Muslims after 9/11. And there were two nights at the Hammerstein Ballroom. And it was like Moby, Beastie Boys, Tom Tom Club, I think Talking Heads, Blondie. And I was the DJ for the event.

GARCIA: Wow.

BARTOS: And they put me in one of those balconies, you know, overlooking the stage.

GARCIA: Like the old Powerhouse club on 25th street.

BARTOS: And I said, what am I going to play? You know, this was still 2001, so I was still really coming out of, like, heavy hip-hop period, right? But I didn't feel like that music was appropriate for a solemn event like this, which was really a time for people to really look inward. And so I said, I'm going to play positive music that I would listen to at home. And in relation to what you just said about sound systems, I was cutting up, like, just really feel-good music that we collectively grew up on. And to hear - I remember at one point, I was cutting up doubles of "The Word" by the Beatles.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BEATLES SONG, "THE WORD")

BARTOS: And hearing that on that sound system, I'd never heard the Beatles like that before. You know, obviously, I never saw the Beatles in concert. I'm not old enough. But to hear that music on that system, I mean, it was like going to church. I'm not a religious person but certainly spiritual. That was as spiritual a moment for me as I think I've ever had. Goose bumps.

GARCIA: Nice. That's beautiful, Stretch. Coming up next, we are going to hear how Mahershala Ali prepares for some of his roles by hearing music that inspires him.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BARTOS: And we're back. Joining us now is Mahershala Ali.

GARCIA: Ali is an actor...

ALI: Peace.

GARCIA: ...At the top of his game. No, no, no, no, don't talk yet (laughter).

GARCIA: Oh, my bad, my bad, my bad.

GARCIA: Just chill. Just chill. We're going to get to you.

GARCIA: You see, I don't do this enough.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: We're going to get to you. Just chill.

ALI: All right, all right.

GARCIA: Ali is actor at the top of his game. He made his film debut in "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button." He's been in hit Netflix dramas "House Of Cards" and "Luke Cage." And recently, he co-starred in two Oscar-nominated films - "Hidden Figures" and "Moonlight." "Moonlight" won best picture and earned Mahershala the award for best supporting actor.

BARTOS: Indeed. Mahershala, welcome to the show.

ALI: I can talk now?

BARTOS: Yes.

GARCIA: (Laughter) You good.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: You got the double thumbs up.

ALI: Peace, peace, how you guys doing?

BARTOS: Great, great, great - great to have you here. How's it going?

ALI: Thank you, great being here, man - really, truly an honor, man.

BARTOS: Thank you. Well, we just covered your acting cred, and everyone knows you as an actor. But what they might not know is that you were an emcee who dropped an album under the moniker Prince Ali, via our boys Hieroglyphics through the Hiero Emporium.

ALI: Yeah.

GARCIA: Hiero.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRINCE ALI SONG, "THE PATH/HONOR CODE")

ALI: (Rapping) Crystal lights, silhouette, slipping into something fresh. Keep the blocks popping over red (unintelligible) pockets. California poppy saga, flower-picking problems. Talking something that will solve them. (Unintelligible). Throwing up, throwing up, throwing up.

BARTOS: Do you still write rhymes?

ALI: Yeah.

BARTOS: And is there a part two to your career as an emcee?

ALI: That's really interesting you would ask me that because right now I am...

GARCIA: He's like, yo, I got 60 balls (ph) right now (laughter).

ALI: What? Yeah, yo, yo, drop a beat.

(LAUGHTER)

ALI: Right now, I'm writing a project that is essentially a marriage of the two about an emcee. And I don't want to share too much about it right now, but I'm writing an album for the project that exists within the project itself. So yeah, it's a film with a very present hip-hop element to it but hopefully, God willing, a form of hip-hop that hasn't really been properly addressed, I don't feel like, in film - in, like, an indie film.

Like, we always see the, you know, the Eminems of the world, who is - you know, obviously have their place and is an extraordinary emcee. But then there's all those artists that the heads really grew up on, who is the blue-collar emcee, the one who flies under the radar, the one who is not going to be in any capacity, necessarily, a millionaire, per se. You know what I mean?

BARTOS: Yeah.

GARCIA: Yeah, yeah.

ALI: ...But is somebody who, this is their life, like the Hiero cats

GARCIA: What's the entry point for you with Hiero because, I mean, their time is the early, mid-'90s. They're bubbling. I'm sure you're writing back then. But you don't come out until 2007. So it's, like, it's parallel to your acting career where, like, you're, like, a little bit late.

ALI: You know, it's - and it's really in alignment with my personality. I was always kind of a dude who was on the scene but really kind of the wallflower. Like, I was at their shows. I was, you know, I remember playing my demo for Del.

BARTOS: Del is Del the Funky Homosapien, the first artist out of the Hieroglyphics crew.

ALI: Yeah. And so I got signed. And we pressed up, like, 200 copies of vinyl. And I got into grad school, like, two weeks later. And I was like, I got to go do this grad school thing. So then I went to New York, and I stopped recording for a while. And so that's why I didn't have anything come out until, like, 2007 because I was focusing on acting.

GARCIA: So I want to - we're going to make a turn here because one thing that I'm particularly interested in because I'm a ballplayer is that you played...

ALI: Mmm hmmm. I seen them handles. You got handles, bruh (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

ALI: Man...

GARCIA: Thank you.

ALI: Man...

GARCIA: ...Is that you played Division I basketball. I read that you - because of the limitations and creativity - that you decided to make a move away from sports. However, I'm going to challenge you because I'm curious.

ALI: Yeah.

GARCIA: You grew up in the Bay Area in the '90s at a time when Gary Payton, who was a future Hall of Famer, was redefining the idea of a creative defensive guard. And then, on the playground, you had Demetrius Hook Mitchell at Mosswood playground.

ALI: Jumping over cars...

GARCIA: ...Jumping over cars, redefining what the 5-foot-8, 5-foot-9 person could do. So there's all this creativity in your sight, like, you've got...

ALI: And I played against Steve Nash for four years at Saint Mary's, too.

GARCIA: At Santa Clara - when he was at university of Santa Clara.

ALI: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

GARCIA: So I'm thinking like, what went wrong that that light turned off? You were like, you know what? I'm going to dead this.

ALI: Yeah, that's a great question.

GARCIA: Thank you. We try (laughter).

ALI: Do you have kids, Bobbito? Do you have kids? Do you have children?

GARCIA: I have a child who's now 3 years old, at age 50.

ALI: OK.

GARCIA: I'm grandpa age with a toddler.

BARTOS: (Laughter).

ALI: OK, you know, we - look, so many of us come from communities where we don't have fathers really present, you know, like, in our lives every day. So I think sometimes, especially as - I'm going to speak for myself and being, you know - when I was coming up being a young African-American boy, you start to put a certain pressure on your environment to guide you, right?

And if you come out of high school and you step into the business of college athletics thinking that it's the same thing that you were doing when you played junior-high ball and high school, you're going to get knocked on your behind. I was just shocked by how much of a business it was, how you became - how you felt like product, you know?

I played all four years. But I essentially quit I think because I lost my relationship with my coach. It didn't feel like - and most of us felt this way - it didn't feel like they cared about us as people. I saw people essentially get discarded. So they recruit you. They woo you. And if you don't sort of come as a finished product, then you kind of can get pushed to the side. And they're just recruiting somebody else. They're not really focusing on developing the whole person.

And, you know, I think if I had a different type of mentorship in my life, I probably would have handled that different. But I value those lessons because I still apply those things to my life and want to take personal responsibility for my experience.

GARCIA: I just want to respond to that.

ALI: Yeah.

GARCIA: ...Because being an advocate of outdoor basketball and having played ball my whole life - college basketball - it wasn't a favorable experience for me, myself. It is a finite experience. The beauty of pickup basketball, outdoor basketball, is that it's infinite, right? You can play ball when you're 8 years old. You can play ball when you're 80 years old. And I hope that, perhaps, me and you cross paths at some point.

ALI: So you could cross me over?

GARCIA: (Laughter) Stretch'll set a pick for me, and I'll (unintelligible) in your eyepiece.

BARTOS: (Laughter) I was going to say, I'll be the referee.

GARCIA: (Laughter).

ALI: I guarantee you, brother, right now, you would.

(LAUGHTER)

ALI: Yeah.

BARTOS: Yeah. I'd like to see that. So what's crazy - I suppose it's not surprising, but it's still really bugged out. You're the first-ever Muslim actor to win an Academy Award. And I'm just curious, how does being a Muslim inform your work as an actor?

ALI: Well, I think being a Muslim just informs my life, in that I just am - I'm really conscious that I'm a work in progress and that I have so many faults and things that I'm working to improve on. So when you look at these characters who you become responsible to advocate for in some capacity, that it makes me have more empathy for their circumstances.

So it's very easy to look at somebody who's walking down the street who obviously may have a drug problem, or someone who may, in some way, participate in domestic violence or be - and anything that we can easily point out and be judgmental of and probably be right, as a result of it. But when you step into the shoes of that person, you've got to be able to do the math on why they behave the way they do, and what it is that they're struggling with and what are the circumstances, be it externally or internally, that create some of the things that they're experiencing.

So I think what Islam has done for me, mostly, is make me aware of my own shortcomings. And I know that I'm responsible to improve upon those things. So that work will never stop. At the end of the day, we're all spirits having a physical experience. And so when I look at those characters, I have to connect to that person's spirit and go, OK. In this physical experience, what is this person being educated about? What are they working to? How are they trying to improve? And that really comes from my relationship with Islam because it just makes me really conscious of my actions.

GARCIA: In the realm of people of color in the United States, we face an issue where it's not always a true meritocracy. You graduate from college. Some of us get graduate degrees. And I've seen it in my neighborhood, growing up uptown where, you know, brothers and sisters still get - wind up in the same job or same frame that they could have most likely gotten had they not went to school and gotten into debt and everything. So it's tough. And in the same vein, like, in acting, someone can win an Academy Award and feel at the top of their game but still struggle to find...

ALI: ...Leading parts.

GARCIA: The leading parts. Yeah, right? So, you know, is there a shift? Is there...

BARTOS: Can we not jinx the situation here?

GARCIA: No. No.

(Laughter).

BARTOS: Please. I mean, why are you even uttering those words?

GARCIA: No, no, no, but I'm saying - but...

BARTOS: I'm getting nervous.

GARCIA: No. No. But to open up...

BARTOS: He's going to blame us.

(LAUGHTER)

ALI: No.

GARCIA: Is there a shift or an increase into roles that are being offered to actors of color, and are there roles that are coming on your radar?

ALI: I think that there's more content right now. Like, if you look at - we're kind of, I guess, in this golden age of television if you add streaming to that. And I think there's more pressure on the powers that be to produce content that is more reflective of the world that we live in, you know, and how diverse the world is that we live in. I think it is - it's slowly changing. For me personally, I have seen a shift in the opportunities. But it's still a fight.

There was a project that I wanted to move up. And, you know, I was, like, maybe, like, third in it. And I wanted to kind of be - there was a little bit of an opening. And I wanted to be considered for the top part post-Oscar, you know. And it was, like, eh. But hopefully, you know, we'll - coming out of this, out of the Oscar, that this window will give me an opportunity to finally do some of the things that I've wanted to do for a really long time because, you know, I spent many, many years being the man next to the man next to the man. And that has a shelf life, man. That gets old.

BARTOS: Have there ever been any roles that were offered to you that really offended you?

ALI: I think some of the experiences that have offended me have more to do with - and this is kind of, like, the undertow or, like, more like a camouflage version of racism or seeing people in a very limited way. I remember, there was a part that I was up for, and I spoke to the director. And I'm talking to him for, like, 10, 15 minutes. And he looks at me, and he goes, yeah, I think you're just too nice for the part. And I was like, huh. And he goes, yeah, you know, this guy's got to be like, you know, like a little, you know, grimy or whatever.

And so basically, he needs the real thing, right? He needs a street dude. And I said, well, you know, I would like to look at myself as a transformational actor. So I'm ground zero. I am who I am. But you've got to build from that and create the character. So there's a sense with - at least with black people, that - then that's why you would see so many emcees easily shift into acting because trained actors couldn't get hired. So they'll look at Robert De Niro or Leonardo DiCaprio or whomever - obviously extraordinary actors - and go, oh, we want you to play this mobster from so-and-so. And you're going to be in Boston. And they'll get an accent. They'll pick up weight or lose weight, dye their hair, put some - Ryan Gosling put tattoos on his face for "Place Beyond The Pines" or whatever.

And like, you're looking at them, and they've transformed. But with a brother they go, no, we got to get 50 Cent for this. And it's offensive. So often, you would see people from the music world who are viewed as being former thugs get placed in the parts that are already written in a limited way and who see people of color in a very limited way. But they're viewed as being the real thing and get plugged in when they don't value those people as characters.

GARCIA: Props - because even your pacing - like, you're portraying a cat from Harlem in "Luke Cage." And I'm like, even the way you space out your sentences at times - I'm like, he must have spent time in Harlem.

(LAUGHTER)

ALI: My dad was - my dad had a place in Washington Heights. And, like, at a very early age, I'd be, like - I don't even know. I was like 12, 13 or something. And I would be - early for me. And I'd say, yo, let's go to Harlem. And he'd be like, here's some money. Get some tokens, and go to Harlem. And I'd be like, OK. And I'm, like, from the Bay, so I don't really know how to get around like that. Like, I'm not in New York year 'round, so I had to hop on the A train and go down to 125th or whatever. And I would be walking around Harlem.

And then I started going all the way down to the village. And I'd be walking around NYU area, and, like, it was like Candyland to me. It was just all so new. And there's so much noise, and people - you know, you get on subways back then, and, like - people were, like - they still do it a little bit. But, like, people were breakdancing. You'd hop off the thing. And, like, it's all the culture, and the way people talk and the music. So I was just taking it all in.

And then, you know, imitation is - what? - the highest form of flattery in some way. So you're just sort of looking at it, and absorb it and imitate but embody certain things. And that's how acting has really served me. And, you know - and early on, I wanted to be a poet, like, back in - back in the day with the whole, like, poetry slam scene and whatnot. So - and just writing and having that kind of mind that likes to observe and write stuff down or, like, comment on it in some way - it means that you've got to watch and pay attention. So I think it's all kind of served me in that way.

BARTOS: So I want to talk about upcoming roles. Do you consider the greater social or cultural impact of the roles that you might get?

ALI: I've never had the luxury to really be able to think about what impression I was making. I just wanted a job, you know, and was looking at parts that I could - well, can I do something with that part? Like, how do I move up where I actually have some power and influence to be able to say, this is what I want to do? And that's taken quite a bit of time to even get to that point. But the main thing for me is to always, even if I am playing somebody who is - we could all agree on, like, you know, Cottonmouth throwing somebody off of a roof is probably not an OK thing to do - that I have to make sure that that person has humanity still, though, that there's still, like, an internal struggle.

Look, if you were going to produce the story of Moses, Moses is only good as his pharaoh. So the larger point of the story is still being made, you know, through the character of Moses, through the protagonist. But you need the antagonist to be great, too. It's just about being able to say, do I want to play Moses, or do I want to play Pharaoh? And having that - getting to that point where you get to choose is a hard place to get to.

Real quick - I'll tell you. And the - we have - there's this "Roxanne Roxanne" biopic coming out. And the character I play in that, like, has little to no redeeming qualities in him. And, like - and so it was the toughest role of my life. Like, I literally had nightmares the last week working on it because he's really physically violent. I couldn't sleep. I felt horrible. It was - it felt toxic. But to tell the hero's journey, you got to sign up to play the devil, you know? And I just don't want to do that too many times, to make a short story long, which I'm great at.

GARCIA: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

ALI: Just be a little long-winded.

GARCIA: No, no, no, no, no. We look forward to seeing "Roxanne Roxanne."

BARTOS: Listen, you alluded to music and some of the characters you've played already. And this is interesting to us as DJs. We hear you make Spotify playlists for the characters that you play. And I'm just...

ALI: Yeah.

BARTOS: ...Curious if you could walk us through that process. I mean, Juan, who you play in "Moonlight," he's an Afro-Cuban...

ALI: Yeah.

BARTOS: ...Brother from down south.

ALI: Yeah.

BARTOS: You know, you sit down to make Juan's playlist, like, how do you approach that?

ALI: You know, I got really conscious of, like, how you are affected by sound. Like, my first introduction to that was - I remember I was probably, like, 10 years old. And I had had the radio on. I just started turning music on at night to go to sleep to. And my mom walked in, and she was like, yo, you can't - you - turn the radio off. And I was like, why? She goes, because, you know, you don't know what you're taking in. That affects you. And I was like, ugh, all right, whatever. So I had to turn the radio off. Many years later, I remember I was wearing out "The Infamous..." I was wearing that album out.

GARCIA: By Mobb Deep.

ALI: Mobb Deep. Oh, my God. I was wearing that album out.

GARCIA: You're making references that not all of our NPR listeners are aware of.

(LAUGHTER)

ALI: Got you, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

GARCIA: It's OK.

ALI: I'm thinking I'm on, like, a late-night hip-hop show.

GARCIA: (Laughter).

ALI: I'm just dropping into that mode with you guys. I'm sorry. I apologize.

BARTOS: We're trying to expand our horizons, here.

ALI: But so...

BARTOS: Mobb Deep's sophomore effort, "The Infamous..."

GARCIA: (Laughter).

ALI: We're all - there you go.

BARTOS: (Laughter).

ALI: So I remember listening to that album, and I was wearing it out. And what I started to notice was I would feel darker after I had listened to it for a while. And so then, I became real conscious of vibe. So then, if you put on A Tribe Called Quest, a group from the golden era who just release - you know, we've got to give your listeners the whole...

(LAUGHTER)

BARTOS: I think - wait, I think the NPR audience might know who Tribe is...

ALI: Yes. They might know who Tribe is. They might know who Tribe is.

BARTOS: ...In a way that they don't know who Mobb is.

GARCIA: (Laughter).

ALI: Yes. OK. All right. All right. But if I would throw on Tribe or, like, De La or someone like that, suddenly, it felt like there was, like, a buoyancy to their music. And I felt lighter. I felt like, oh, like, the day was brighter. It was, like, you know, Saturday afternoon. And...

BARTOS: (Singing) Saturday.

ALI: Yeah, exactly, exactly. So I became real conscious of how music affects your vibration in the world at a pretty young age. And so later, as you're just learning how to put together characters, I started thinking, wow, this guy would not listen to the same things that I would listen to. So that's really how - what I began to do. And it's kind of one of the first things I do because I - when I was doing "Moonlight," I was working on three other projects. And so any given day, I could be on a different set.

And so going to work or being in my trailer, I would click on a different playlist to kind of let - remind my body, like, muscle memory, like, oh, you're about to step into Remy Danton's shoes, so you're on the "House Of Cards" set. And just energetically, I would kind of remember Remy's voice or how he moves just because Remy is somebody who would respond more to a Jay-Z, when Juan is not listening to Jay-Z. You know what I mean? So that's really how music affects me and how I've always related to it in terms of acting.

GARCIA: Well, you're going to really enjoy this. Coming up, it's time for the impression session.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BARTOS: And we're back with the impression session.

GARCIA: So, Mahershala.

ALI: Yes.

GARCIA: Here's how it works.

ALI: Yes.

GARCIA: We play a track.

ALI: OK.

GARCIA: We're not going to tell you what it is.

ALI: OK. Oh, God.

GARCIA: Stretch is going to play one. I'm going to play one. All we want is your honest feedback, your honest impression, however the song has vibrated with you...

ALI: OK.

GARCIA: ...Share that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALLAH U AKBAR")

BRAND NUBIANS: (Rapping) Wreck time is here, so let's be paid on free loops. Kick a little step as the EP gets swung. This is the stick-up boom music for styles that flow free. Did y'all know it's me or could you tell by the spree? The deuce crew of the new year, makes the whole shit clear, yeah. Give the question. I'm tired of brothers guessin'. The Nubian name brought the X a lot of fame, but wouldn't it be a shame if it all up and ended? That ain't the plan I had and shit like that ain't intended for a slick-headed wonder, wearer of saggy pants. Old school...

ALI: Oh, Brand Nubians, woo.

BARTOS: That was Brand Nubians, "Allah U Akbar."

ALI: (Singing) Wreck time is here.

GARCIA: (Laughter).

BARTOS: Ad libs. Ad libs.

ALI: Let's get paid on free loops.

(LAUGHTER)

ALI: Oh, that's the dot. Oh, man, this is my jam. Oh, my God, this joint. My impression of this is blown away.

(LAUGHTER)

ALI: This is - oh, that's my joint, yeah. I love that joint.

GARCIA: I'm curious. Now, Brand Nubian and, you know, KMD, Rakim, Lakim Shabazz - there was so much influence of Islam in all of its measures from the Nation of Islam to the Five-Percenters to the insha'Allahs to Islam from Arab Muslim countries. And it was being shared in hip-hop.

ALI: Yeah.

GARCIA: So what effect did it have on you?

ALI: I just think hearing sprinkles of it in the music from, like you said, Brand Nubians, Wu-Tang, KMD, you know, Chuck D - all these brothers just - you know, Tribe - like, hearing just brothers, in some way - Nas - just, like, saying certain things, you know, that mention Allah or any of the prophets in some way, you felt like it was OK. Like, you just felt like, oh, not only was it OK, that it became your responsibility to be spiritually conscious in some way.

And so I think it became something that hip-hop is demonized so much. But people don't necessarily recognize that there's a real spiritual vein current that runs in hip-hop and how much these young men - and women - have contributed to people finding their path with their spirituality. So hip-hop always found a way to remind you that God was present.

BARTOS: I'll just say, as a white kid that got into hip-hop, in the grand scale of things, pretty early, that aspect, whether Islam was being spoken about explicitly or just alluded to, opened up a window into a world that I probably would not have known about otherwise or I would have had misinformation about...

ALI: Right.

BARTOS: ...If it wasn't for that invitation to learn more. So...

ALI: Yeah, yeah.

GARCIA: We're going to play you another song.

(SOUNDBITE OF AFEFE IKU FEAT. OVEOUS MAXIMUS SONG, "MIRROR DANCE; YORUBA SOUL REMIX")

ALI: Mm, vibing out at the club.

(LAUGHTER)

ALI: Yeah. Yeah, girl, what's happening? Oh, for real? Yeah. Come on. Come groove with me a little bit. Shake your hips. Come on. Yeah. No, I don't drink. Just pass me some soda water. Yeah. Oh, oh, oh, oh, yeah. Back up, oh, yeah. Is that carbonated? No. Drop a cherry on top. What? Yeah. Bring the jungle brothers in. Yeah, bounce, house, what? Shake, yeah, do it. Do it. Do it. Pump. What? Throw your hands up, girl. Moon walk, moon walk, sway. Step to the side. And dip, jump, dip, jump - oh, yeah. What's your number girl? Oh, yeah, oh, you're going to give me your email? Oh, cool. I won't blow you up. Yeah, all right. Step, step, step, step. Shake, shake, shake. What?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIRROR DANCE; YORUBA SOUL REMIX")

OVEOUS MAXIMUS: (Rapping) We are the sons and daughters of a dance revolution, the sons and daughters of off-balance walks and historic body rhythms. We are a footstep generation, a generation that defeated journeys of oppression through acrobatic expression when the tongues of freedom had conversations with the body languages of (unintelligible).

So how you like me now 'cause we are the soul clapping for the souls that are still dancing that refuse to forget us...

GARCIA: We were hoping to get the goofy side of you (laughter).

ALI: Yeah.

GARCIA: That song is an artist named Afefe Iku. And the title is "Mirror Dance." And it features a spoken word artist by the name of Oveous Maximus, who talks about the power of dance, spoken word, community in a very spiritual way.

ALI: I hope I didn't disrespect the brother. I hope I didn't...

(LAUGHTER)

ALI: No, in all seriousness 'cause, like, now you got me feeling terrible, like, this brother done got on here and, like, disrespected somebody's culture and their music. Like...

GARCIA: No. No, no.

ALI: So I apologize for the joke.

GARCIA: The producer is Osunlade. He's a very, very beautiful dude. I think he'll be delighted that you even listened to it. But the reason why I played it is because, you know, I'm aware that you had a little bit of spoken word experience and - maybe not in the hip house...

(LAUGHTER)

BARTOS: (Laughter) I was just going to say...

ALI: Yes, Yes.

GARCIA: ...When's your hip house album coming?

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: Yes, yes, yes.

GARCIA: But I did want to, if you could, you know, touch upon about some of your magical memories of being on a mic, not with the beat but just speaking to an audience that is hearing your view of the world.

ALI: I just remember that feeling, which is similar to being on stage, as acting. But it was my first time that I'd seen somebody affected by something that I observed and what that meant, you know, like, when you go to church, you know, or when you grow up in some capacity where there's a speaker at a podium and you were vibing with them. And I saw Amir Sulaiman in New York about a year ago, and I just remember, like, laughing and crying, like, kind of at the same time and just - and what that could do to you. And so being in the audience and being moved by something that somebody says and thinking about something different and it leaving an impression on you is something that has stuck with me about that time.

GARCIA: My brother...

BARTOS: Beautiful.

ALI: Yeah.

GARCIA: ...Thank you so much.

BARTOS: Indeed, indeed.

ALI: Thank you.

GARCIA: Knowing that you have a seed back home with your wife...

ALI: Yeah.

GARCIA: ...who's newborn.

ALI: You might have heard her crying in the hallway. She's back there in the hallway kind of like hurry up, Abu. Hurry up.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: Well, that's a blessing. Spend some time with her, and enjoy the rest of the day.

ALI: Yeah, yeah.

GARCIA: And much love. I really, really hope that me and Stretch can...

ALI: Ay (ph), much love.

GARCIA: ...Can cross paths with you.

BARTOS: Indeed.

GARCIA: At some point...

ALI: Yeah.

GARCIA: ...On the dance floor...

ALI: Yeah.

GARCIA: ...On the ball court...

ALI: Same here, same here.

GARCIA: ...you know, on a stage, whatever.

ALI: Man, it's got to be some hip house, though. Like, forget hip-hop.

BARTOS: I was just going to say...

ALI: It's got to be hip house, hip house.

BARTOS: I was just going to say, let's do a hip house album.

ALI: Thank you, brothers. I appreciate, y'all.

ALI: I appreciate just so much of what you guys have just contributed to the culture and what you're still doing. And it's special work, man. And it's impacted my life. Like, I really, sincerely mean that. So thank you so much.

GARCIA: Word up.

BARTOS: Wow. Thank you. Really appreciate that.

ALI: Yeah.

GARCIA: Peace.

ALI: All right. All right, brothers. Peace.

BARTOS: Later.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BARTOS: That's our show. This podcast was produced by Sami Yenigun, edited by Steve Nelson and N'Jeri Eaton. And of course, executive produced by the one and only Abby O'Neill.

GARCIA: Special thanks to our VP of programming Anya Grundmann.

BARTOS: This episode features original music by DJ Eli Escobar.

GARCIA: If you like the show, you can hear more at npr.org

BARTOS: Or wherever you like to listen.

GARCIA: Peace.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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