It’s good to have friends in high places, and no one knows this better than Chicago emcee Rhymefest. When you consider Kanye West “one of your best friends” and you’re signed to Mark Ronson’s upstart label, Allido Records, your odds of success are clearly increased. Industry heavyweights on his side or not, Rhymefest is a five-tool artist brandishing the ability to battle, write, entertain, captivate and innovate. And much like Chi-town alums Common and Twista, Rhymefest has a swagger and swing that feeds his confidence and belief that his debut, Blue Collar Poppin’, will provide some much needed mass appeal.
Not yet a household name, Rhymefest has tasted the limelight, winning a Grammy for co-writing “Jesus Walks” with Kanye West. Even though Rhymefest’s verse never made it on the College Dropout version of “Jesus Walks,” he is far from bitter from the experience. (“Brand New,” the lead single from Rhymefest’s debut, features West.) As much as the media tried to generate a conflict, Rhymefest saw the situation as two artists collaborating. West may be a black hole for attention and praise, but Rhymefest may have the star power to generate a shine of his own.
You’re down with Mark Ronson, signed to his label. What can we expect from your new album?
I am living my dream right now. Since fourth grade I always wanted to be a rapper, express myself. And God gave me this opportunity through my teachers. I was just telling somebody that some people have accessibility, some people have instruction. I had a lot of good instruction from accessible people.
When you have accessibility you can have all the features, have everything you want, but that don’t mean nothing going to happen for you ‘cause you didn’t have enough instruction to apply it and execute it. I had very good teachers, from Kanye West to NO I.D. to Mark Ronson — real producers who sit in the studio with me and guide me. So how does it feel to be with Mark Ronson? Man, it feels great. How does it feel to have NO I.D. on my team? I’m spoiled on beats. Only thing I can do is keep working.
With Mark Ronson on your team, will there be a rock component to the album?
Mark Ronson does rock, hip-hop, dancehall. Mark Ronson is a prodigy child. That’s the type of person I want to rock with — I want to incorporate all of that into Rhymefest. This is music. This ain’t just rap or rock. I just want to be musical.
Do you think the media blew up the “Jesus Walks” situation with Kanye West? Are you afraid that the controversy will define your career?
Kanye’s been doing this longer than me, and he understands the media. He knows what they try to do. He called me up, we talked about and we know who we are and what we mean to each other. That’s one of my best friends, and he will always be.
You have the new single “Brand New”, featuring Kanye West, NO I.D. and Mark Ronson producing. Who else is slated to appear on the album?
ODB, Mario, and Carl Thomas.
Short and simple.
Short and simple.
I’ve seen you before live on stage and you seem to genuinely enjoy entertaining. Do you think hip-hop has lost some of its entertainment value?
I think the entertainment value in hip-hop is at one of its best stages. Kanye is an entertainer, Common is an entertainer, Jay-Z is an entertainer, T.I. is an entertainer, Outkast are entertainers. And these people can actually rap. They are creative. Mos Def is an entertainer. He’s big in the food chain. People with real careers in hip-hop can actually rhyme.
As a hip-hop artist you know the importance of mixtapes, and as a hip-hop artist you have your contractual obligations with your label. With RIAA recently starting a major campaign to crack down on vendors selling mixtapes and the deejays producing the music, what are your thoughts?
Hip-hop is the new Civil Rights Movement and we don’t realize. We don’t realize the power we have. And there is an evil force trying to corrupt us, send us to jail, kill people, bust mixtape vendors. They clamping down on us because we are initiating a change. The only we can do is stay grounded and keep fighting.
Can you define that Midwest swagger, that natural confidence that you Kanye and Common radiate?
You know what? Since it’s so natural, I don’t know. All I know is I’m different, but I just be thinking I’m normal.