Making a stellar mark in history as the first Muslim actor ever to nab an Oscar on Sunday (Feb. 26), Mahershala Ali’s Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his portrayal in Moonlight has officially thrust him into film Hollywood’s exalted winner’s circle.
But if we hadn’t first seen the 43-year-old’s name scrolling through the film credits on the big screen and a couple of silver-screen debuts, we would have seen it on the front of a rap album cover as Prince Ali.
Speaking with XXL, Ali revealed that hip-hop has long been the strongest impetus of his life and career, which might also explain his 2006 album release, Corner Ensemble. The 18-track project was followed by another only a year later in 2007 titled Curb Side. From the listen of things, Ali’s sound and message is mostly consciously driven, imbued with nods to his Muslim and Black heritage as well. Admitting that he’s more of an underground music fan, Ali also said that he also dipped into break dancing in the past.
“Hip-hop has definitely had a strong, perhaps the strongest, influence on my life,” he said. “I don’t think I’m at all unique with that. I think there’s so many people of color, and even White kids, that have been tolerating the stresses of their own problems and what not and were able to navigate so many things through the culture of hip-hop and create jobs, have opportunities and been able to express themselves and finding their identity in.”
Despite sifting through underground artists, the Luke Cage actor also took his hat off to Nas for Illmatic, an album he believes is the greatest hip-hop opus to date. A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan, Digable Planets and the Notorious B.I.G., whose universal crown photo makes an appearance beside Ali in his Luke Cage cameo, have also made their way to the actor’s playlist.
*Checks off another box beside Ali’s name on the list for Black excellence*
Listen to the Prince Ali side of Mahershala below.
(Photo: Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images for Samsung)