Artist Interview: Rhymefest

An overwhelming majority of the hip-hop music that we at Fresh Scouts will recommend is of the same ilk. For one, it has to be music with a message—emotional music that does something other than get people to shake their booties. And secondly, it has to have soul.

Chicago artist Rhymefest does both, and that’s why you’ve seen him on site here twice in the last week. The first was to review his first album in four years, “El Che,” and this time it’s to sit down and chat about the new record and how a man like Rhymefest crafts his art.

RhymefestCritical reception for “El Che” has been good, but for Fest this record was about pushing boundaries and giving fans something lyrically that they haven’t heard before.

“I don’t think fans know what they want to hear,” Rhymefest said. “We don’t know, and I even say this as a fan of music. There were a lot of songs that I dissed where today I hear it and say, man this song is pretty good.”

Surprisingly, that includes one of the greatest rappers of all time, who Fest confesses wasn’t always his favorite.

“I didn’t appreciate Tupac until recently,” he admitted, chuckling, “but now that I listen to it in a context of the whole history, I can appreciate a lot of Tupac’s songs. I understand where he was coming from and I feel it more. I realized that at the time, I was immature. I wasn’t able to grasp it.”

“El Che” strives to give all listeners that same sort of experience—where fans of all ages can get something out of it, and then something else out of it when they come back to it years later.

“You have to make music that’s kind of like the Bible. Every time you read the Bible, you get something new out of it, and when you read the Bible at 12 and read the Bible at 22, it’s a whole different experience. My music has to be the gospel.”

That gospel, as Rhymefest put it, started in Chicago, where rap has seen increasing success in the last decade. From Common to Kanye West to Lupe Fiasco, a certain brand of hip-hop has taken shape in the Midwest, and Fest has found himself right in the center of the movement.

“New York is the Mecca of hip-hop, the South is the rhythm of hip-hop, but Chicago is very special because Chicago—and the Midwest in general—is the conscience of hip-hop,” Rhymefest explained. “We remind hip-hop listeners about what hip-hop is supposed to be about, the essence of it.

“This is the number one place where you can hear spirit and soul bleeding on a track and really feel it,” he continued. “When people listen to Chicago artists, they can aspire and remember what they should’ve been putting in their music. The thing that’s really special about this city is that every artist has a passion that seems to be born here.”

And what that passion births next is Rhymefest’s Chicago-based group Blaxploitation, which includes himself, Juice, Mikkey, and Twone Gabz. They’ve got plans to release an album within six months. Then, Fest says, comes another full single LP from him.

In other words, it won’t be four more years before hear from this guy again. “Blue Collar” came out in 2006 and was a quiet classic. Rhymefest hopes “El Che” will be too, but admitted it’s too early to tell how it will be received over time.

“There have been times that, when an album came out, people were like, this is a classic. This album is a classic. But what’s very interesting is that a year later, nobody ever even mentions it.”

He added, “There’s something about music and history where history has to decide if the fans got what they needed out of it. I think with “El Che,” people like it now that they have it, but it has to take time in order to seep into your experience and life. That’s when you’ll find out how it’s affected the fans.”

So far, it’s affected them very well, and with plenty more music to look forward to for Rhymefest in the coming year, he’ll continue to affect those fans in a positive way. We wouldn’t be giving this guy so much pub if we didn’t think he could it.

Trust us—he can do it.

Check out the aptly named “Chicago” from the new record:

And, more importantly, pick up the full album:

About the Author

Joel Brigham writes about stuff. It’s pretty much all he cares about. Stuff like music and more music. But he mostly cares about music. And also music.

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