Ottawa’s Ali TheSoulfulPoet Tells His Story On His Upbringing and Music Journey

Ali The SoulfulPoet

A well thought out punchline can captivate and even inspire you. Day to day we relate to lyrics, quotes and even jokes, whether they resonate with us or just peak our interests. Imagine telling a story without those punchlines? Ali TheSoulfulPoethas been telling his stories through poetry and has been able to highlight experiences that we might overlook in our societies. Using his pen to engrave his experiences, Ali has made noise around the poetry community in Canada. Rising as a team, he is yet another artist bringing attention to the creative scene in Ottawa.

From winning poetry awards to his transition into music, Ali talked to me about his upbringing, cultural influences and much more. He highlighted his experiences working with other artists and even went into detail about his album ‘Live from The Basement’ which was produced by fellow Ottawa artist and producer, Quest. Ali invites you to understand his thoughts with this brief interview and reminds you to keep an eye out for his work in the future.

TheSoulfulPoet and Quest

XMPL: When did you start writing poems and what helped influence the process? 

TheSoulfulPoet: I began writing around the age of 7. I would write short stories and remix fairy tales by switching up the ending. From then I fell in love with words and the power they had. I began writing poetry around 8-9 years of age. Growing up, my mom would tell me bedtime stories that were above my vocabulary level so I could improve my English, then as I explored the world of poetry and hip-hop, they both came together to make my style of art.

Was there a defining moment that made you start pursuing spoken word?

Growing up, I had always been fascinated by how one person on a stage could captivate an audience of thousands. I had recently switched programs in university after a very stressful and depressing year. I did a lot of soul-searching during that period of time. I decided that I needed something to do on the side, outside of my life of school and work, and this passion of mine was the one thing I realized that I kept with me throughout my whole life. I can’t get bored of this. 

After winning an ‘Album Of The Year’ award for your first spoken word album, you transitioned to Hip-Hop. Tell us about what made you want to create Hip-Hop music?

Winning Album Of The Year for my debut spoken word album “Thorns” is my greatest accomplishment in my career so far. Out of all genres of music and poetry, my first attempt at making an album won me an award that set me apart from the rest. My transition into hip-hop wasn’t really a transition to me. I always rapped, even on my debut album, just now I’m a lot more emotional over the beats I use. I don’t like to classify myself into any genre of music, I consider myself a storyteller, so it doesn’t matter what musical label you decide to place on it, the story will come out dope regardless.

Can you tell us some of the similarities & differences you’ve noticed between performing Hip-Hop & Spoken Word?

Both genres are definitely a lot more similar than most people assume. Rap at the end of the day stands for “Rhythm And Poetry” so there’s obviously a strong relationship between them. Spoken Word is definitely easier to write and record, as the flow and cadence is dictated by the artist, since there’s no beat being followed. As for performing, I believe there’s beauty in both, however, Hip-Hop is definitely a lot more energetic than Spoken Word, but the message in Spoken Word is usually a lot more direct than Hip-Hop.

Your project ‘Live From The Basement’ was done with Quest, was there any advice he had for you in the studio? 

Quest was one of the first people to truly believe in the direction I’ve been taking, and has always been an older brother as much as an artistic collaborator. He always would tell me that I have what it takes as long as I work hard. I took that guidance to heart, which is why I was so excited to create this project with him.

What were some of the messages you were hoping people would take away from this project?

There’s a lot of messages that people can take away from my latest album, but there are a few that I definitely wanted to put out there clearly. First, I believe that everyone’s story is worth telling, regardless of where you come from. This entire project is me telling people my story, my struggles and my traumas. Everyone expresses themselves differently, but just know that no matter what you’re worthy of being heard. That being said, as a first generation immigrant from a wartorn country, putting together a hip-hop album is probably the last thing most people would expect, but I’ve made it my life mission to break down the walls that are put in front of visible minorities like myself. We can do anything. 

Can you walk us through the process of recording this album and how would you say it turned out compared to what you were expecting?

I actually recorded the entire album in my basement, which made the name of the album representative of the times we were living in as we were compiling this project, as well as my recording process. It started off with a call from Quest telling me that it would be awesome to have a hip-hop album to my name, and I was sceptical at first but as I was writing song after song, the idea definitely grew on me, which made me go deeper and more personal in my writing process. I think that for an album that was compiled during a worldwide pandemic, this project is a must listen for anyone who’s been through struggle and fights to one day see brighter days. 

Photo by Quest

Lyrically you have been very vocal about your culture and upbringing, Can you walk us through your story, and how that impacts your music?

I’m originally from Baghdad, the capital of Iraq to be exact. However, I was born in Libya and came to Canada when I was about 2 years old. Both my parents were victims of the war going on in Iraq over the years, but neither of them imagined immigrating as far as Canada in order to find peace. Once we landed in Toronto, my pops began searching for a job the same day, with nothing but sandals, light jeans, a thin jacket and broken English on a cold January day in 1999. Things were tough growing up, with my parents working so hard I learned to entertain myself, which is where I began writing short stories. I would remix fairy tales and give them a different ending, and mama would get me to tell her the story while she sat and listened. That gave me the confidence to continue writing more. Then I fell in love with live performance. Watching other kids at school perform live on stage and captivate everyone in the audience was so cool to me, and still is so cool to me till this day. I began writing poetry and rap around 9 years old and I’ve been on and off since, mainly due to the cultural stigmas around artists and the paranoia that most 1st generation immigrants have when their child doesn’t become a doctor or lawyer. Now, after seeing how passionate I am and how much I’ve accomplished over a short period of time as an artist, I have my family on board and continue working hard for them. 

Are you working on anything new we should keep an eye out for?

I’m actually currently sitting on over 20 unreleased songs that I’m simply waiting for the right time to release! I feel like their real game changers and need their own separate time to shine. Stay tuned on my Youtube and my Spotify to be the first to hear the new projects when they release!

Where do you see yourself as an artist in 5 years?

I want to be one of Canada’s most influential artists of the decade. I want to be on my way to building an empire that’ll live longer than myself, which is always my biggest goal.

What advice do you have for other visible minorities looking into becoming artists?

Your story is worth being told. Study your craft like it’s your day job. Put the work in. The walls surrounding you will eventually fall. Don’t break after your first fall because the strong keep rising.

Stream ‘Live from the Basement’ by TheSoulfulPoet:

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