A Rebel With A Cause
As a youngster, Rhymefest didnít seem the type that would end up anywhere positive. He wasnít mixed up into drugs, hustling or anything that any other young, black Chicago male easily get themselves tangled up into. He was just depressed. Not really knowing or understanding why, Rhymefest just wanted to be in a place where nothing could touch him, so he created his own private sanctuary, turned prison--his bedroom. Well, the world wouldnít leave him alone, so he came out of his cocoon. In coming out, he went back to school, but was unsatisfied with a GED and diploma. It was college that taught him that he was intelligent and that he could actually reach his potential.
How grateful are we that he discovered his love of words and made a career out of it? Very. Weíre in serious need of serious rappers and Rhymefest proves with every line and every rhyme that heís serious. Itís not just about the rapping for him, itís also what he can do for his community. Rhymefest is involved with H.R. 848--which is the effort to get artists paid when their music is played on the radio and is even friends with the UK Prime Minister--David Cameron--who tried to get hip hop banned in the UK at one point, until Rhymefest wrote him a letter to defend the love of his life. Itís people that are this passionate about their craft that are usually rejected by the people that should love them. (A loose interpretation of Rhymefestís definition of a rebel.)
Luckily he doesnít let the lack of love stop him from sharing his music with us. Rhymefest still has a strong fan base that follow and support his every move. He just released El Che earlier this summer and itís definitely getting some love, as well as his pre-album, Dangerous 5:18. Other people might call that a mixtape, but Rhymefest wanted to give us an appetizer before we devoured the main course. Grab your knife and fork because this rebel has some food for thought for us to swallow. I donít know about you guys, but I know Iím hungry!
If you didnít realize your own potential in college, where do you think you would be at this point?
Probably selling dope or rapping about how big the rims are on the car that I donít have. Iíd be a whole different kind of artist--something different from what my name is. My name is Che and it represents revolution by definition and I would be the opposite of that. People talk about being revolutionary and being a rebel. Theyíre not realizing that, that is the status quo. You ask everybody else, ďNigga youíre not a rebel! Youíre not doing anything special. Youíre like every other nigga!Ē A rebel is the man who, after not seeing his child for five years, comes back into the life of that child and changes that childís life and becomes the best father ever. A rebel is one who changes his mind state to change the community.
Do you consider yourself a rebel?
Yes. My motto is, I want to be a better man than the man I was the day before. Everyday I strive to be a better man than the day before.
People are always focused on street cred when it comes to hip-hop. When you have stars like T.I. and Lilí Wayne that do things to get them put in jail, I donít think thatís a positive image at all. Who cares about you feeling like you have more street cred because you did time? What do you think about rappers trying to maintain a hood persona even after theyíve made it out of the hood?
I donít know if theyíre trying to maintain a persona. I think that sometimes when you donít know--being ignorant--it follows you around, no matter how much money you get or how big you get. I also think that the good thing is that--in music, like in the trials and tribulations of Red Fox or Marvin Gaye--the fans get to see the artist grow and go through things. The fans grow and fall with the artist; like in the case of Tupac. We got to see his life and his music transform. We got to travel with him. For the people, itís entertainment, but for us, itís life. I go through things, I just donít broadcast them like that. Itís good and bad. I want you to relate to me through my life struggles and my music, but I donít feel comfortable putting out something like, my daughterís mother is wilding out, out there like that. Itís not unprecedented and it doesnít destroy people.
What does destroy people?
You know what I think destroys people more? When we see Nivea making a video called, ďLove HurtsĒ and in the song, sheís talking about, ďOh he cheated on me. He did this to me, he did that to me, but guess what? I still love you. Then Lilí Wayne puts her on the counter and starts fucking her. Theyíre saying this is real love and how youíre supposed to be loved and itís ok. I think that the hypersexuality, the imbalance of anti-intellectualism and the promotion of alcohol--ďSay Ah,Ē ďBuy You A Drank,Ē ďBlame it on the Alcohol;Ē everything is surrounded around hypersexuality, alcoholism and drugs. This is bring pushed, promoted and bought. Ignorance is not being pushed on us by accident.
Itís gotten so that this goes past raceÖ
Hell yeah itís past race! Itís in the communities--the American consumer. I ainít even speaking black, Iím speaking future generations. We want things to stay as they have always been and we want people to get dumber and spend money. We can think about stuff that goes even deeper than music. If you think about Cash for Clunkers--what is that? The government was like, ďWe want you to give us your car, weíll give you a $5,000 credit--at a time where nobody has a job and everyone is broke--and weíll give you a $20,000 car.Ē Your debt is the way the government get out of debt. The more you buy, the more you struggle to pay bills, the better off your country. Come on man! This is what theyíre on! Itís all types of mind tricks. Why is it when you open your computer, your internet knows exactly what it is that you like to buy and presents it to you? Thereís all kinds of mind tricks that keep people coming back for more.
You released El Che on an indie label. How do you feel about that?
Not only am I not restrained, Iím not used to the freedom of it. I even listen back to the album and although I love it, I feel like I could have went even harder! As I was making the album, I was thinking, ďPeople have to receive it like this or that.Ē But really you shouldnít be thinking about what people want, you should be thinking about what they need. On the next album, I plan on going even harder because I can; not even because I want to. Do it because you can, whoís going to stop you?
Any points youíre trying to make with it?
My name is Che. I was named after Che Guevarra. He is the father or modern revolution, guerilla warfare. The album is out on a label called Dangerous Negro. I have to fight and scrap with people that think Iím not in the club or Iím not hot to be successful. Iíve got to basically fight a guerilla war. Iíve got to fight without the label money. Iíve got to fight without radio, BET, without all those things. I still have to get through to the people and get them to understand that Iím dope. Dope is more valuable than hot because dope lasts forever and hot cools off. By definition of the title of the record, before you even get to the music--Rhymefest is dope. Itís guerilla warfare and thatís the point of my album and my struggle. Thatís who I am in life. Iíve some to the conclusion that no matter how much money I amass, Iíll never stop fighting because God put me here to struggle. Iíve accepted it. Iím not fighting, fighting no
more. Thatís kind of deep, right? I didnít realize it until it came out of my mouth. [laughs]
How do you feel about your own fame?
I donít feel like Iím famous. I feel like Iím popular and thereís a difference. Kanye West is famous. Iím just popular. Iím somebody that can walk around the hood and they can be like, ďWhatís up Rhymefest?Ē And Iím like, ďWhat up?Ē Kanye is somebody that walks around and gets mauled. I have to take my popularity in stride. You know what happens to popular kids? They can become unpopular real quick. Famous people always stay famous, they just lose their money. Popular people may not ever have money, but they lose their popularity. Everyday is a struggle to stay popular.
Whatís next and what do you have coming up?
I am managing a producer who produced a lot of joints on my album. His name is S1. I wouldnít even say Iím managing him, Iím just helping him sell beats. I want to get him out there. He did the first four joints on my album. To me, heís the new J. Dilla. He is the resurrection of J. Dilla. The dude is great, so I want to work with him. Iím working on a script for a new TV show. I figure, hey, the first time I tried, I got a pilot and an $800,000 budget. Do I stop because I was rejected once? Whereís my fortitude at? Iím working on a new script. Iíve still got the same friends in television and they seem to like this script Iíve got. Iím a pitch it and try to get another show going for HBO or Showtime. Iím a single father, raising my son, spending time with my daughter--Iím just trying to be happy.
ďI have to keep pushing. That is in the tradition of Jesus, in the tradition of Malcolm X, in the tradition of Castro--being rejected by the very people they fight for.Ē-Che Smith aka Rhymefest