Issa Ali
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Issa Ali

Dayton, Ohio, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | INDIE

Dayton, Ohio, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2014
Solo Hip Hop

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Further into the interview we get reintroduced to Dayton, Ohio artist, Issa Ali. Ali, has been passionate about music for awhile, and his dedication and hard work has carried him very far. He first rapped on Sway’s show in Detroit, and has got cosigned by Dave Chappelle. Isaiah Williams who was present also stated that Issa Ali "presents a great talent for fitting in the pocket of the beat" - Isaiah Williams


The Dayton area isn’t typically known for producing a deluge of rappers into the greater consciousness of the hip hop world.

Working to buck that trend -- and the stereotypes of rappers in general -- is Issa Ali.

At 28 years old, the Dayton-born and Yellow Springs-raised artist is just starting to ride the wave of success his hard work has created.

“When I first heard of rap music, I just loved it. I loved the idea of poetry in motion. I just loved the way it made me feel,” Ali says.

Writing his first rhymes in the fifth grade, Ali carried that love into middle school, where he made friends with likeminded kids.

“We actually made a studio. We had a mic hanging on a cardboard box,” he laughs. “We had a drum machine and a keyboard. We figured out how to record ourselves. It wasn’t good quality, but we made our first album. Of course, it was fun and hilarious. We were just figuring out how to do it, but we loved it.”

But it was while attending Central State University that Ali, a biology major, began the group Village Fam with four other artists. Honing his production skills, Ali graduated and went on to Wright State to earn his master’s in Public Health.But he kept writing and producing while working in the real world, leading to his first two mixtape releases. Both Project Blue Book and As Above, So Below were self-produced and well received, with Ali showcasing his ability to evolve between releases.

“It was my first time stepping out all the way solo, like, 'This is what I represent by myself,’” Ali says.

Ali also represents the Gem City and Yellow Springs with pride, prominently featuring both in his lyrics and in multiple videos.

“For one, Dayton is the capital of funk music. Period. The West Coast got their sound from Dayton. So Dayton, to me, is very influential on hip hop. A lot of the biggest songs have been sampled from Ohio and Dayton,” he says.“Growing up (in Yellow Springs), I was able to get a broader respect for different cultures. I feel like I was able to draw from each one, and that gave me the opportunity a lot of people don’t get.”

Through networking, Ali made some key connections to help boost his career. Among those is musician and producer Steve Arrington, formerly of the legendary Dayton funk group Slave, whom he calls a mentor and a collaborator of future projects.

A mutual friend introduced Ali to Brooklyn hip hop artist and producer Talib Kweli, known for his work with Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def). But Ali chose to put his production skills in the forefront over his ability to rap. That earned him work for Kweli’s Javotti Media label, producing and farming out beats to other artists.

“A lot of people say they can rap, but a producer is more rare. Especially if you’re good at it. I knew that coming in. I felt like I had a better chance of developing a relationship with (Kweli) through that first,” he says.

It was inevitable that Ali’s ability to work the microphone would surface, which resulted in the new single “Overtime," featuring Kweli.“My goal with 'Overtime' was to just bring back hardcore lyrics over hardcore beats. I feel like there was a golden era of hip hop. It still exists, but it doesn’t get as much shine as it should for various reasons. I wanted to put new futuristic flavor on top of it to draw in this new crowd and the old crowd all together,” Ali explains.

The song has garnered the national attention of the hip hop press and has kept the local artist busy, performing throughout the Midwest and East Coast.

In the meantime, Ali will continue to do what he feels he was put on this planet – Dayton and Yellow Springs, Ohio, to be particular – to do.

“I think the reason this gift was given to me was to help the world in some way; wake people up and bring things to their attention. (To) be someone people relate to and make them feel good about themselves.” - Dayton.com (Jim Ingram)


This new web series seeks to take the reader deeper into a story featured in the print edition of the News. Reporters often have to cut wonderful details or quotes because of space or relevancy requirements. “Behind the story” aims to share more — to bring alive why we think a story is important, what we’ve learned in the process and anything else we hope will be of interest.

Our first installment focuses on local hip-hop artist Issa Ali (Issa Walker), and why reporter Aaron Maurice Saari believes Ali is creating a sound that can only come from Yellow Springs. The print story appears in the Aug. 3 issue of the News.

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Growing up in Yellow Springs in the late 1980s into the mid-90s, I had no choice but to listen to hip-hop. All of the deejays at the school dances and parties played it. Luckily, it was mostly good hip-hop. Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, Tribe Called Quest, Rage Against the Machine and many of the other artists mentioned in this week’s print article.

No one has captured my imagination like Dr. Dre, though. To be clear, his raps can be misogynistic. He has said homophobic things. I do not excuse these or sweep them aside as inconsequential. Dre has addressed the issues, and I leave it to individuals to assess for themselves whether or not they find it sufficient. Rock ‘n’ Roll is filled with geniuses who had major flaws, too.

I regard Dr. Dre as the Paul McCartney of hip-hop. His hypnotic beats, use of samples, unique instrumentation and incessant drive for perfection made N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton” perhaps the single most important debut album in rap history. Dre’s first solo endeavor, “The Chronic,” was a seminal moment in rap history, as it launched the career of Martha Stewart’s best friend, Snoop Dogg. Two of Dre’s subsequent solo albums, “The Chronic 2001” and “Compton,” are works of genius. Why? Because Dre has always been an unflinching chronicler of what it means to be a black man in the United States of America.

Rap has history and scholars. From “Yo! MTV Raps,” a seminal program that was a “must appear” for anyone wishing to launch a career, I received an education. I learned that Dre’s work is much like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” They both provide insight into the black community with incomparable, visionary black voices. N.W.A. blindsided my young, white life. Hip-hop pervaded the films we showed at the Little Art Theater when my family owned it. Spike Lee, John Singleton, Melvin Van Peebles and F. Gary Gray all exposed me to new artists.

In the 1990s, there was a renewed “black and proud” movement fueled by a new generation with a new sound. And thanks to teachers at YSHS like Julia Davis, John Gudgel, Joyce McCurdy and Mary MacDonald, I was given guidance on what to read: Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison. To my mind, Dre was like the Paul Lawrence Dunbar of post-Jim Crow Los Angeles. Hip-hop was the soundtrack to me realizing the reality of white privilege.

Over the years, Dre has shown himself to be arguably the greatest producer in the business. And while some don’t like his rap style, he is my favorite. Dre’s baritone voice lends power to a laconic delivery. Dre is unlike his protégé, Eminem, whose staccato, rapid-fire verbal release is like a relentless assault. Where Em seeks to make you surrender to the onslaught, Dre delivers thunder and earthquakes whose power is in their unpredictability. He is brilliant, obsessive, a perfectionist, and is also the first billionaire in rap.

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So I am neither hyperbolic nor blasé when I compare Issa Ali to Dr. Dre. With all respect to Village Fam, listening to Issa’s second solo album, “As Above, So Below,” is like hearing “The Chronic” for a new generation. Issa, like Dre before him, has steadily made beats and sold them to other artists, but he saves the best for his own songs. He is a student of music; in our conversation, he talked about Roberta Flack and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in the same breath. Issa, just like Dre, would likely buy a record before he bought food because music is what really feeds him. In his solo work, Issa Ali elicits sounds from hip-hop’s past, but keeps listeners ever-focused on the future.

Yellow Springs is filled with major talent. We have luminaries in all the artistic fields: music, painting, pottery, writing, dance, singing, acting, etc. But no single name in the world of hip-hop calls Yellow Springs home. That is changing. Issa is on the rise.

Great rap is honest rap. Sometimes brutally so, such as with acts like Public Enemy, N.W.A., Body Count, Salt-n-Pepa and Queen Latifah. The language employed reflects the reality of the artists. I’ve often wondered what the “YS sound” for rap might be.

Issa Ali is our Dr. Dre. He could only come from Yellow Springs, and as one who appreciates the historic role of hip-hop in our culture, Issa is offering a sound and an approach that is unique. To be sure, hip-hop is filled with philosophers like Common; poets like Tupac; and prophets like Kendrick. Issa is not recreating the wheel, but he can spit mad bars (freestyle adeptly), can produce dope beats, can play all the aforementioned roles, and remain unapologetically educated, intelligent and black.

This is an exciting prospect. In the course of our 40-minute interview, Issa mentioned numerous times how important education is to him, and how he believes that hip-hop gives him the tools and the avenue to reach younger generations, especially those in precarious circumstances. Being a fan of his music, I knew that this emphasis was genuine. It is rare to have an emcee and producer with the intelligence, talent and vision to create something we might call empowerment rap. It is too much to make one person responsible for defining a sound, so I offer this only as an observation: whether we talk about it or not, Issa Ali is plotting a place on the hip-hop map for Yellow Springs. - Aaron Maurice Saari


Hip-Hop legend Talib Kweli gives an assist to Ohio producer Issa Ali on his new single “Overtime.” - AllHipHop.com (Mike Winslow)


Issa Ali ft. Talib Kweli Prod. By Issa Ali – Overtime - The hype magazine


Hip-Hop legend Talib Kweli gives an assist to Ohio producer Issa Ali on his new single “Overtime.” - DJ scream TV


In May of this year, Yellow Springs resident Issa Walker was in Detroit visiting a radio studio owned by legendary rapper Eminem. As the influential program “Sway in the Morning” was live on the air, Walker, who professionally goes by the handle Issa Ali, was offered the microphone in the studio as a beat he had never heard started to play. Issa Ali did not hesitate.

“Look through the prism/look into the prisons/human slave system/humans raised conditioned,” he rapped. “Education we missing/revelations are in us/don’t let them label us sinnas [sinners]/degrading what God invented.”

The video of Walker’s freestyle — putting lyrics and technically proficient rap to a beat — cuts off right as D-12, a renowned group from Detroit, and Royce 59, one of Walker’s idols, explode into shouts, a sign of respect in hip-hop.

“Sway put the pressure on me because I’m from Ohio and we were in Detroit. The way he put pressure on me, it was intense,” he said. Pausing, he added: “But I killed it. That’s what Sway do. You either kill it or you get dogged on national radio.”

The Sway in question is Sway Calloway, one of the most important people in hip-hop today. He began his career in the late 1980s as a rapper and b-boy (break-dancer), teaming up with DJ King Tech to record several albums, which in the early 1990s landed them jobs hosting their own radio show on KMEL in San Francisco. Other stations quickly began simulcasting “The Wake Up Show,” and as the years progressed it became for hip-hop what “The Ed Sullivan Show” once was for rock ‘n roll. Sway also has worked for MTV since 2000 and is now a producer for the network.

Walker said he won accolades from Sway and great appreciation from Royce, which Walker referred to as “co-signing.” This is when one emcee acknowledges the prowess of another.

“It was one thing to deliver on such a big platform, but to have Royce co-sign me, that was…” he trailed off, unable to put such an accomplishment into words. Being a wordsmith, that’s not something Walker experiences often.

“You’ve gotta rap about your environment,” he continued, focusing on the contents of his freestyle. “And I love the braggadocio of hip-hop, so I brag about my master’s of public health degree. I brag about my mind. If I can make being educated cool, that’s what I want to do.”

Walker, a 2006 graduate of Yellow Springs High School, holds a bachelor’s of science degree in biology from Central State University, and a master’s of public health from Wright State University. He is a professional fitness trainer at the Antioch College Wellness Center, and is in excellent physical condition himself. He confessed that he wanted to be a doctor, and thought the M.P.H. degree would help secure entry to medical school.

“I’m still way into health and I hope to use my music to educate, perhaps go on lecture tours and talk to kids after I do all this music.” When asked if he might still intend to add “doctor” to his credentials, Walker laughed. “Perhaps, perhaps. You never know with me.”

Walker’s music career has followed the trends of the industry. Full-play albums were once the norm for social consciousness rap progenitors such as Arrested Development, Digable Planets and The Fugees. Walker’s growth as an album artist can be heard from the early cuts by Village Fam, a local hip-hop group, through his second solo offering, “As Above, So Below,” released in 2014. Now he’s focusing on singles and creating professional quality videos, which are available on YouTube. When asked if this was an artistic move or a commercial one, he answered quickly.

“Everything is singles now. People don’t buy whole albums, they just want to put the track on their playlist. So, there’s an industry game to play. And I know how to do it; in a way it is simpler. I know how to write hooks. My beats may sound gansta [referring to a particular subgenre of rap] and like we’re having a party, but the lyrics reflect my consciousness. I’m giving you something that’s real. But also something that’s hot,” he said, smiling.

Walker is mum about his next steps, but with a mischievous smile he said, “Stay tuned.” He’ll be in New York for a month, the place where hip-hop was born. The list of luminaries stretches across all five boroughs, and includes Tupac Shakur, Jay-Z, Nas, Method Man, the Beastie Boys, Lauryn Hill, Lil’ Kim and many others.

“I’m gonna go soak it up like I do whenever I’m in New York. The energy is great.” He paused. “For a while, that is, and then I come back home. I love it in Yellow Springs. I grew up here, and I can think here,” he said.

Walker seems on the precipice of something major. Vague comments about New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles hint at some opportunities in the works. He said he is only going to move forward with the right situation.

“Jay-Z says if you aren’t aiming to be the best, go home. You must believe that you are the best. But you better show people, and then stay humble.”

You can follow Issa on Facebook at Issa Walker IG; watch his videos on YouTube, Isaa Ali *issabeats; or purchase music on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Music. - Yellow Springs News


Yellow Springs resident and resident hip-hop artist Issa Walker alternated between excitement and nonchalance when recently discussing one of his latest musical endeavors. Not only did Walker write the music for a song performed by one of his idols, but he got to rap on it as well. The song is called “Overtime” and features Walker performing alongside hip-hop legend Talib Kweli.

“He is a really cool guy to work with,” Walker said. “He’s a genuine person who lives what he says in his music.”

Walker, using the nom de guerre Issa Ali, wrote, produced and rapped on the song “Overtime.” The song is available now on his SoundCloud page and features Walker and Kweli trading verses across three minutes of unadulterated hip-hop. According to Walker, his approach to the song was simple: bring back the timeless hip-hop sound of serious lyricism over a classic beat.

Kweli, a Brooklyn rapper known for his solo collaborations and his work as one half of the group Black Star, is an artist Walker has listened to since early high school. The collaboration came about thanks to Walker’s work producing beats. In addition to writing music for his own projects, Walker composes beats for other artists. (In hip-hop, a producer writes the music that lyricists put words to. These beats often use samples or melodies from other music as part of the composition.)

Kweli had recently started his record label Javotti Media and was looking for instrumentals for the artists on his roster. Walker was able to send music to Kweli directly, who liked what he heard and used Walker’s tracks as beats for some of his artists. If a beat was hot enough, Walker said, Kweli would consider keeping it for himself.

After appearances on a handful of artist’s records, and crowd approval of those songs on tour, Walker was able to talk to Kweli about working on a song together. The result is “Overtime,” in which Kweli contributes an exclusive verse and gives Walker a shout-out at the beginning of the song.

The collaboration with one of his idols is a significant accomplishment, and is a major step on a path that he has happily walked since he was a little kid.

Walker grew up in a household where music was a constant, but when he discovered rap, the listening experience became that much more personal. Like any music fanatic, Walker can remember the first album he bought with his own money — Tim’s Bio: Life from da Bassment, by Timbaland. The album’s dynamics really impressed him. The album is half hardcore rap and half R&B, Walker said, with a coterie of guests from both genres. Walker was also taken with the fact that Timbaland writes and produces his own music, which inspired Walker to try his own hand at writing.

Walker laughed as he recalled his foray into making beats. He had a little keyboard that he would plunk on endlessly, driving his parents crazy. He also started writing lyrics in fifth grade, and by seventh grade, he and his friends began recording songs.

“We would have sleepovers and just rap all night,” he said. “We had a cheap mic hanging on a cardboard box.”

He took his interest to the next level in high school, buying his own recording programs and learning how to sample. Listening to music with a sampler’s ear gave him newfound respect for the music his parents listened to. Groups like the Temptations not only made for good sampling, he said, but demonstrated how effectively raw emotion can be expressed through music. Listeners can feel the pain, the emotion; everything about those times is caught up in those songs, he said.

Understanding music on this level also helped him mature in his approach to making music. He and his friends started rapping about things they actually did, and this more honest approach allowed him to develop the themes running through his music.

“It’s always fun to do party music,” Walker said, “but I want to use this platform to wake people up, to make people feel good about themselves and to make people feel like someone is there for them.”

It is partly this attitude that led to his collaboration with Kweli, who is known as the “King of Conscious Hip-Hop,” Walker said. Walker met with Kweli last month in New York City and talked to him about the themes he was going for in the song. The conversation showed that they find the same things important, Walker said, and collaboration came naturally.

Getting his beats published and collaborating with serious artists has given Walker insight into the world of publishing, royalties and the many hoops burgeoning artists have to jump through. While “Overtime” was picked up by one of the biggest hip-hop blogs and tweeted by Kweli, taking it further requires playing the industry’s game, Walker said. Hiring a PR company is the next step in getting his name out into the hip-hop world.

“I’m just getting my feet wet. A lot more will come of it,” he said.

Walker is happy to get to work making things happen, but like any devotee of his calling, a true love for the art never leaves him. He has released a series of mixtapes as a solo artist and as part of Yellow Springs rap group Village Fam. His contentment stems from the abundance of good people in his life who believe in his talent and have helped him flourish, he said.

“I love it — that’s the main reason I do it,” he said. “It’s so fun to me — time goes by, I forget to eat. I’m blessed to be making progress in something I love to do.”

“Overtime” by Issa Ali featuring Talib Kweli can be found by searching for the title on SoundCloud. - Yellow Springs News


Discography

Mixtapes:
* 'As Above So Below'
* 'Royal Mane Black Light'

*Issa Ali


Photos

Bio

Issa Ali (Real Name Issa Walker) is a Hip Hop Artist/ Producer/ Songwriter born in Dayton Ohio. He has been featured on the iconic Sway In The Morning Show twice, and has also collaborated with hip hop legends such as Talib Kweli, Cappadonna, and more. He impressed legendary Detroit MC 'Royce Da 59' the very first time he was on Sway In The Morning. He and Brooklyn MC Talib Kweli- who is known most for his work with Mos Def (now Yasin Bey), collaborated on Issa Ali's self- produced single "Overtime." Issa is also producing songs for upcoming artists on Talib Kweli's hip hop label 'Javotti Media. ' It is also noteworthy that Issa Ali has performed at 3 Dave Chappelle Juke Joints alongside Fred Yonnet and "The Band With No Name" (Stevie Wonder's Band) in Chicago, Toronto, and Yellow Springs Ohiio. Issa also caught the attention of Dayton Funk Legend Steve Arrington (Lead Singer of Legendary funk group 'Slave.' Steve Arrington gave Issa a shout out during a radio interview on WYSO when he was asked about new artist who stood out to him in the Dayton Area. Ali also is the head of Music production on an upcoming comedy movie 'Boy Band.' The cast includes Questlove from 'The Legendary Roots Crew,' & is directed by Joel Levinson. Issa Ali, known for his eclectic style, diverse beat's, and slick but assertive flow, appeals to the masses. Issa also toured prisons & performed for inmates with the purpose of uplifting & inspiring them. 

Issa (Issa Walker), also being aware of social issues affecting his environment, was also featured on the front the New York Times for sharing his views on issues directly affecting his neaborhood.

Band Members