In the sea of Chicago talent including Kanye West, Common and the more commercial Twista, the name Rhymefest doesn’t usually come up as one of the best. But in hip-hop the talented underdogs are never looked as the best. Enter Rhymefest, a battle hungry ferocious mic assassin that has handed it to many of today’s top emcees. Rewind 2 plus years ago, this battle emcee signs to Clive Davis’ J Records in hopes of bringing some sort of hip-hop image to the already massive pop music label. “Blue Collar” is exactly what the doctor ordered. “Blue Collar” dropped on July 11th to “weaker” first week sales, but it all comes in stride to this working man. He knows that the journey is neither easy nor short. I got a chance to talk to Rhymefest about the J Records debut, first week sales, and his little publicized challenge to Jin at 50,000 feet. Sit back….you may learn something.
HHS: You were a staple in Chicago hip-hop for a long time before signing to J, what made you decide to make that move to a major label?
Rhymefest: Once I saw the impact that somebody like Eminem was having on hip-hop music and the culture, I looked at myself and was like “I know this guy”. Then saw Kanye’s impact, and was like “hold up, I know this guy”. Those guys were from a thoroughbred of emcee, just like me. These guys were having an effect on hip-hop, how people think and on society at large. I said to myself “I can do that, and I know I can, because I’ve seen it in action before, me being on par with these guys”. So I think there are other stories that need to be told, other than just battling, other than concentrating on this underground purist thing, which is partly bullshit anyway. I set forth to do those things, and here I am.
You have known Kanye since back in the day, how did you guys hook up and when?
I met Kanye through a friend of mine; actually he was my friend’s sister’s boyfriend. My buddy was like you need to meet my sister’s boyfriend, he makes beats and such. He’s doing big things. Not because anybody in city even knew he was but because he had that persona that made you think he was a star. When you met him, you thought this guy is a star even though he drove a little put put. (Laughs) It didn’t even matter, because he’s a star. You knew it and you felt it coming from him. Kanye has vision; the thing about visionaries is that they already see where they are going to be. He saw where he was going to be so vividly, that everybody around him saw it. Even when it wasn’t actually there. He affected my ego when I met him, he would tell me “you rap real good Fest, but your beats are wack, wack as fuck”. He told me I needed tracks, so I got em. He was like a door to door car salesman or something. I was just like who the hell is this guy telling me my beats are wack, I know what’s hot. He challenged me. Me being a big battle guy I had never met a guy that challenged me as an artist, not on stage but as a musician. I am never one to back away from a challenge, so I was like Mr West I need better beats…where they at? We started working together and the rest…you know.
It hasn’t been publicized but I was sitting right next to you there. On the plane back from The Power Summit last year, you challenged Jin to an emcee battle at 50,000 feet and he refused. What do you have to say to Jin now?
If I had to talk to Jin right now, I would say you know we are homies, I consider not only a friend but a brother, but this is a war zone. That was like Israel and Lebanon but nothing happened (laughs). Thing is, I understand him sitting down; he had much more to lose than I did. At the end of the day I would have put up the Grammy and been like put up that $50,000 (that he had won at the Fight Klub Battle). Wouldn’t have been a something for hip-hop, Rhymefest and Jin battle at 50,000 feet for $50,000.
It would have been monumental
The stewardess didn’t even know what to think, the whole plane is chanting “Fight Klub, Fight Klub” it was like Terror in the Sky, the staff had no idea what that even meant. You know why I think it didn’t happen, I am a real freestyler. I’m real spontaneous and I don’t have prepare. A lot of times people have to prepare their notes and strategies.
Exactly, he wanted to battle later after he sat down.
Yeah, exactly. It was cheating then. I wouldn’t even do it now, my album is out and he has so much ammo now. He should have done it at 50,000 feet in 30 seconds. (Laughs)
Do you think Chicago has finally got the recognition it deserves?
Hell no, we haven’t. That’s not the fault of society that’s the fault of the artists in Chicago, including myself. We don’t mobilize like artists of other cities do, in order to create a look to the world of unity, power and togetherness, where “this is a block”. There needs to be a song with Twista and Common, there needs to be a song with Rhymefest and Lupe. There needs to more than just Kanye building that bridge. People would say that Twista and Common wouldn’t sound good together on a song, but they said that about Twista and Kayne, but they did it. Kanye has rapped with everybody from Twista to Lupe to Rhymefest and it works. There needs to be a Shawnna and Mickey joint. I’m not saying just artists I want to work with, if you don’t like me don’t work with me. You should still work with each other because that creates opportunity for me being from Chicago and for people after us.
The album is “Blue Collar” and came out July 11th and it garnering some good reviews. After such a long wait, are you happy with the results?
I got a message on myspace from some dude named Truth. His picture was of the 2 dudes from the Muppets that sat in the balcony and talked about everybody. He asked me “so Fest how was your first week record sales. Can we say flopâ€¦congratulationsâ€¦lame” It’s funny because it didn’t offend me, that’s not what I care about, that’s not why I put it out. The 30,000 people that have bought my album thus far have gotten something that the rest of the world doesn’t have yet. This is what I’m giving them, that’s real hip-hop. You have something special if you bought the “Blue Collar” album. You have something that will go down in the annals of the subconscious of hip-hop just like “I used to love h.e.r” did. Who knows how many albums “Resurrection” sold or how many albums “People Instinctive Travels” did, but we know that’s real hip-hop. I know it didn’t do 3 million or even 2. I went back to the dude’s page and looked and it said his first love was hip-hop, but he is disenchanted. So I wrote him back and said maybe the reason you are disenchanted with hip-hop is the same reason my album sold 30,000 units in 2 weeks. The name of my album is “Blue Collar”, I knew it was going to be work and it was going to be a grind when I got into it. J Records have given me a commitment to continue to work my record and help sell albums. We are doing it like an old school Rock n Roll way, just keep me on the road and we convert people one at a time. When the people see me and hear me, they buy the record.
That’s very true no one wants to work their records anymore and actually have some kind of artist development.
I look at it like this; if BET won’t play Rhymefest video, let’s go past BET. I went on Jimmy Kimmel; I’m going on Carson Daly and David Letterman. I’m going to try to do SNL and Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. If you won’t let me in through the front door I’m coming through the side door and I’m getting in the house. That’s why I will not quit, when you quit you lose. All the rappers that were consistent and kept coming, Common, Tribe, De La you see that they have the respect of the people. This is not a game about first week; they try to make it out like it’s the most important thing but it’s not. You think J Records is going to drop Rhymefest, are you crazy? He’s the best rapper they have had in forever. No diss to Cassidy, as far as what I do, Cassidy does what he does and I do what I do. J Records needs me as much as I like being there. My A&R will call up my manager and ask how are Fest’s spirits? They know that once a rappers spirits are broken, he isn’t any good. It’s like a horse with a broken leg.
The joint with ODB “Build Me Up”, some people though that was some old ODB vocals, but you actually had a studio session with the late ODB. Run that down for the fans.
ODB had got out of jail and was working on his album when he was signed to Roc-a-fella. I was called in to help write music with him. When I got in and heard him singing he seemed to really be enjoying himself. So, Mark (Ronson) got an idea with ODB singing and so I wrote some verses for him but he didn’t really spit them how ODB could spit. Originally it was going to go on Mark’s album, but then ODB passed on and so I wrote some verses and kept ODB on the hook and viola.
So now the album is out, what’s next for Rhymefest?
I’m looking towards my next album right now. My next album is called “El Che” My real name is Che, and I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The blue collar guy gets fired, goes postal and kills everybody at his job so he’s on the run as El Che. It’s about revolution taking place across the world and resurrection starting from the ghetto. It’s about guerilla warfare going on around the world and how we respond to it, I’m just documenting it.
When should we expect that?
The “El Che” album will be ready next spring. I got to get my DMX on right now
Let’s put it out there….you not giving up battling are you?
Hell yeah…I’m not about to go get ate up (laughs) you crazy as hell. Battling is like the And 1 of hip-hop, I’m playing in the NBA right now and I have to get some fucking points on the board. You can’t play in the NBA and when that game is over go back and see what’s going on in the And 1. You’ll burn yourself out and I’m not willing to lose. Battling is what I used to craft myself as a performer, to craft and hone in my skills as an emcee. Battling isn’t something I take so serious to think that “nobody’s going to take the crown”. Come on man please, it’s really going to take a lot for a rapper to get me to diss him. Right now I’m working on stories, I’m working on changing people’s hearts, and I’m working on concepts. I’m trying to progress as a musician. I’m not going to be like the Godfather and have them pull me back in.
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