Santana Ali is a child of God. A child of greatness. A child of pyramids. He is Simba from Lion King. His belief? Everything will unfold as it goes. The 21-year-old describes his music as unique and “catered to him.” Inspired entirely by the animal kingdom — with the color of his hair directly corresponding to the animal he is at the time — the Washington D.C. native is fierce, determined, and creative as hell. Read more…
After completing high school, the “For Real” rapper dropped out of college to pursue the music. With a studio downstairs in his own crib in Los Angeles, his recording process often includes putting the safari on in the background — channelling whatever animal he is in that moment. His standout animal-print hair is actually what helps him stick out in the bunch. The content in his music is based around what he’s watching, how he’s feeling, and his experiences.
I see your moon tattoo, are you spiritual?
Yes, I don’t really think too much on religion. I did psychedelics before, so that opened me up as far as spirituality goes. It made me more in tune with myself.
We talking shrooms or acid?
Shrooms. I’ve done LSD before. LSD is what taps me into the world more, shrooms really has me thinking a lot.
Why should people fuck w/ you?
I don’t really give a person a reason why they should fuck with me. I’m just me. If you fuck with me, you fuck with me. If you don’t, shit that’s your loss.
Talk about being from Washington D.C.
I was born in Virginia, raised in D.C. Prince George’s County, Maryland. Raised all around the DMV area, then moved to LA 5 years ago. I moved with my family because my mom always told me we were gonna move to LA. She kept her promise.
What were you seeing growing up there?
A whole lot of shit, wild shit for real. A lot of shit here I see would be a spectacle back home, and a lot of shit that happened back home would be a spectacle here. It’s 2 different worlds.
How do they compare?
Everybody here can be more on some Hollywood shit. Back home, people don’t give a fuck. N*ggas don’t really care about handling how they feel. A lot of people compartmentalize their feelings here and don’t really deal with it. Back home, it’s more instantaneous action as far as feelings go. [snaps] It’s weird shit going on here that don’t go on back home, that I had to learn how to deal with to be in the scene to really maneuver and navigate.
Are you talking about the music industry?
Music industry and just being a man. A lot of people in the industry try to carry like they’re in the industry, and don’t really handle how they feel as men. It’s a lot of hoe shit that goes on here, but this is a good environment to thrive for people in the entertainment industry.
Was there a moment where you felt “okay, I wanna do this for the rest of my life”?
Nah, because I don’t wanna do it for the rest of my life. I wanna get into animation, into film, different mediums to show my creativity. It’s not all about music. Well it is, but it’s about the vibe. Rap is my gateway into this world. It’s my gateway into this whole realm of creativity to be respected. I just want to be respected in creativity. If music is my first avenue I know I’ll be respected in, then I’m going to capitalize off it.
From D.C., I think of Wale, Shy Glizzy, and Goldlink. Who were people you grew up to?
I grew up to Shy Glizzy, because he was in the streets dropping mixtapes. Go-go music of course. Lil Wayne for real, grew up to Wayne. I didn’t really grow up to n*ggas in the city, I grew up to music circulating around. Reaction Band, TCB XIB, TOB, a lot of bands.
Shy Glizzy is slept on. You guys collabed yet?
Yeah, for sure. We’ve never collabed. I’ve seen him once in the city when I was young, which is crazy because I always remember that shit. But we ain’t ever linked up or nothing.
What’s your favorite part about LA?
Man the girls. Being able to go outside, it feels good as shit out here. I don’t really have to stress for nothing for real. Knowing there’s always a play to go make out here is amazing. Back home, you’re always at the rendezvous spot if you’re not doing shit. You’re always home.
You’re only 21, what do parents think of the rap?
They’re ecstatic for me, because I prophesied this vision so much and stayed true to it. They look at me like a man of my word. I feel comfortable in what I’m becoming. My dad lives in D.C. My mom lives out here. I was texting her just now telling her I had a show. Told her to pray for me, she’s at the beach.
She’s at the beach this late?
Yes, at the beach dolo. She prayed for me. She’s very spiritual too, that’s where I got it from.
“For Real” is a bop. Bring us back to that studio session.
I was in the house like I always am, recording in the Airbnb when I first touched down from Miami. When I’m in my zone, I got so many different frequencies. I don’t think about it too much. As soon as I heard the beat, I started going.
Talk about your project, Yor Robot.
It was an experimental EP. I had multiple projects I didn’t release, but it’s my first project on the surface. In all honesty, it felt amazing to put it out. But a little rushed.
Who’s rushing you?
Myself, because I felt like I had to put something out. Just for myself to continue to progress.
You’re independent. Are you distributing with anyone?
Yes, I’m distributing with Create Music Group. I fuck with them.
What is the meaning behind the title 5000 Degrees?
On the intro, I was freestyling. 5000 Degrees, let’s say I’m the blackest dude outside. It’s like I’m melanated. The heat doesn’t affect me, but everyone else around me is dying. It’s vultures everywhere. It’s 5000 degrees, you better get your ass in the house. I’m not affected by it, but I’m letting everyone else know it’s 5000 degrees outside. The animals are out and I’m leading the pack.
What animal are you?
I just had my hair blonde and black, so I was a hyena for the beginning process. Then that shit went full blonde so I felt like a young lion, young Simba. I got this made, the Symba as Ali [points to drawing]. But I’m an eagle now. I’ve been an eagle, but now I’m embodying the vibe of an eagle.
What does the eagle represent?
The eagle flies solo. It flies high and above adversity. Either I’m an eagle or I’m in the sea exploring. It’s either or for me.
Do you have a team or a manager?
Yes, I have a team. My guy Luca, Matt doing my managerial shit right now, my n*gga Cliff. My super producer in the cut Brandon Wayne, one of the greatest producers to ever do it.
What is it you want fans to get from your story?
Inspiration. I want them to be inspired to do what the fuck they want to do, because I’ve been in a position where I had my back against the wall. I really was not on shit and had to make something shake. And I made it shake. I want everybody to know they can do the same thing, Why the fuck can’t you?
What are some goals yourself as an artist at this point of your career?
To drop a project with visuals I’m completely proud of 100%. Just using that as a stepping stone to create more. I feel like I’ve been unsatisfied with certain shit I’ve put out or the visual representation of my shit online. ‘Cause when you come here and really see what I’m on, you’ll be like “damn I feel it 100%.” But when you look on Instagram, you’re not gonna really know 100% what the fuck I’m tryna tell you.” That’s all, just being proud of a body of work.
What is Illtown?
Illtown is me, it’s my presence. Illtown is a presence I carry with me. Illtown is a film. Illtown is an aesthetic. Illtown is God. Illtown is the devil. Illtown is however you wanna look at it.
How important is social media for your career?
Social media is everything because that’s the only way the people are going to fucking see what you want them to see. The grassroots movement is everything, being in the streets and shit, but it’s a demographic. There’s so much money you could be touching, social media is the only access to it.
Who’s your favorite person to follow on IG?
This dude named @grump.boy who makes exclusive masks and lives in Arizona. Masks with horns on ‘em, crazy shit. Another guy @janrichsen does experimental stuff, like taping knives to his face, sitting in a chair, leaning back and making the balloons pop. Just random shit, he’s sick.
What’s a normal day in the life? Walk us through.
I get in the fucking studio when I wake up in the morning and make like 3 songs.
I’m not gon’ cap and say every day, but every 2 days. Let’s say this, I’ll take the whole week and record 2 songs every single day, then I might take a break for the weekend. Be on my regular shit. For me, it’s all about the art. I try to stay focused as much as possible.
What do you do for fun?
Make music and think about ideas. This shit’s fun to me, so I don’t have no life outside of this. It’s not like I’m gonna take this off and be on some regular shit. This is me for real.
3 things you need in the studio?
My mic, my computer, and Logic. I don’t need shit else, just some water. I don’t need no weed, no cap. I like recording myself too.
Do you engineer yourself too?
Yes to a certain extent, then I pass it over. When I’m recording, I like to feel I’m 100% in control of what I’m doing. I don’t like anybody being like “wait hold on.” Nah n*gga, move. I’m working on this shit.
Can you produce too?
No, but I’m learning. Brandon’s gonna teach me. [laughs]
What’s the best encounter you had with a fan?
I was at 7/11, these guys were like “oh shit, it’s Niklo!” It’s the cyborg, the prototype of me. I was in LA Film School at the time for 6 months before Left Brain took me on tour. I had an animator going to school with me, I was telling him this vision I had. I’m like “yeah just make me a cyborg.” When he made me that, I learned how to use Logic at the same time. Everything went hand in hand.
Me, Stevie Wonder, Charlie Wilson, The Weekend. Just crazy shit. A lot of people haven’t heard what I’m experimenting with, so I wanna perfect that. As I meet more engineers and people who are better with sound, I’ll be able to establish that. Be able to crossover to their world.
Talk about headlining your own show in LA at The Regent.
The Regent cool, it’s tight. I feel like I deserve it. I’ve been working hard. I don’t care about nothing else. I do this shit for myself. I was telling my homies, “watch this shit from the crowd and critique my performance. Let me know afterwards so I can be better.” I’m doing this shit for practice to learn how to be better. This ain’t “primetime, oh shit! We on.” Nah. We gon’ learn from this and go hard afterward.
Is there anything else you wanna let us know?
I’m Santana Ali, child of the pyramids. 5000 Degrees coming soon. We’re coming to take over every medium, just be aware.