Thursday, August 03, 2006

Rhymefest: Grammy-winning Kanye collaborator

From the article on WERS (photo by Leo Succar):

Rhymefest, the Grammy-winning rapper who helped to pen Kanye West's jaw-dropping single “Jesus Walks” and whose birth name, Che Smith, comes from the famous South American revolutionary, has a bit of a messiah complex. Interestingly enough, he's a practicing Muslim. But he and West share more than a hometown (Chicago) and a few collabo tracks: they share a mission.

In the now famous chorus, West sings “So here go my single dog, radio needs this / They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus / That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes / But if I talk about God my record won't get played, huh?” To hear him tell it, it seems that Rhymefest (who answers to ‘Fest for short) has taken up a similar cross: making rap with a moral in mind, but without joining the ranks of established “conscious” artists whose approach Fest deems too soft.

“I'm not against fighting,” said the rapper, a big-boned, scrappy former janitor who sports a much-defended lisp and who once schooled fellow Chi-towner Eminem in the notoriously down and dirty Scribble Jams. But neither is Fest interested in provoking rage or attacks like other gangster rappers—or becoming a martyr. “Rappers are getting shot and killed,” he said. “I don't want to be killed by the same person who bought my record. I want to continue to give [fans] my message.”

That message is exemplified in tracks like “Bullet,” a modern-day “Waterfalls” for an even more jaded audience. The earnest anthem, bolstered beautifully by the melodic backing vocals of Mike Payne, takes listeners through several narratives, from soldiers in the military to promiscuous players who're at risk for disease, tying them together in a cautionary chorus: “What you've done is / put yourself between a bullet and a target / and it wont be long before / you're blowing yourself away.”

Based on the songs, the sermon Rhymefest seems to preach doesn't seems as simple or Live-8 friendly as clean living or world peace: it's an exhortation to look long and hard at the links between cause and effect, even when the situation is sticky...

Read on for more on Rhymefest's struggle with the devil...


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