Most of the time we think of cosigns from established artists as a way for younger cats to gain some attention and notoriety. Yet sometimes a cosign is enough to make me uninterested in someone who could actually be a solid MC. For instance I have never listened to a single project, and practically any song from Lloyd Banks, Young Buck, or Tony Yayo mainly due to their affiliation with 50. Despite my pride for my coast, I didn’t even give Game a chance until he left G-Unit, and it still took me over a year of being a fan of his before I decided to actually give The Documentary a listen. At the time it surprised the shit out of me that the album was actually fucking dope. Even with the influence of Curtis. Yet that experience hasn’t changed my lack of desire to check out rappers who are affiliated with people I dislike, especially if it’s their non music personality that turns me away from them. Therefore it’s safe to say that until today, I haven’t given a single artist affiliated with Kanye a chance.There are a few people to whom i’m a certified inarguable hater and Kanye is without question one of them. So despite my deep felt genuine love for the city of Chicago, it’s pretty easy to keep my hate flowing towards the artists that he promotes. I’ve always thought Lupe was grossly overrated, and disliked who he was after watching an interview with him on Comcast On Demand where he stated that he hated rap until he found out that he was good at it, I was completely uninterested in Common’s Be due to Kanye’s participation, I have purposely avoided listening to anything from Big Sean as if he was a Jehovah’s Witness, and for a long time I stayed away from Rhymefest’s music as well.
I was actually in Chicago listening to WGCI back when they premiered, “Brand New”, the first single off of Rhymfest’s last album, Blue Collar, and I remember being really bummed contemplating what it meant that this was the best young artist that The Chi had to offer. I didn’t like the oversimplified and uninteresting beat from Kanye, I didn’t like that Kanye got the first verse on someone else’s debut lead single, and that verse from Kanye was so garbage, I think I changed the song before Rhymefest had even finished his first set of bars. So after that brief exposure to Rhymefest’s music, I no longer paid attention to his name. I heard good things about Blue Collar from friends and critics, but I heard even better things from the same people about what Kanye was doing, so there was no reason for me to take their opinions to heart. Yet recently I had an unexplainable itch to go back and listen to “Brand New”, and realized that if I had stuck with it, paid attention to Rhymefest and ignored Kanye, it would have still been a song that I never really would have interest to hear again, but at the same time I would have noticed that Rhymefest was showing signs of having some serious skills at his disposal. After I had come to that realization, it turns out that the people over at MAC media, who are constantly hooking us up with great content before it’s available to the masses, gave us the opportunity to give Rhmefest’s upcoming sophomore release, El Che, a listen. Let it be known that whenever I review anything for ZIF, I enter the situation with an open mind, and give everyone an equal chance to impress me, but seeing no verses from Kanye on this project made that task a lot easier.
Before pressing play, I had no idea what to expect. I thought due to the artists he rolls with, chances are Rhymefest would have signs of talent but be a little too soft and a little too self-absorbed and self-congratulatory for my tastes. So when I heard “Talk My Shit”, the first proper song on the album, I was genuinely surprised. The beat was rugged and hard like a muddy camo jumpsuit and some steel toed boots, yet somehow refined and musical at the same time. Not only that, but Rhymefest came with some intelligent but gangster lyrics, with a veteran’s flow. I didn’t think one of Kanye’s closest childhood friends would start an album off talking trash about commercial rap, and spitting bars about spraying up offices and committing home invasions. I fucking loved it. All the sudden I went from open-minded to juiced about what the next song had to offer. The problem is that after winning me over with “Talk My Shit”, the album immediately pulls an ebrake turn and goes the opposite direction with “Say Wassup” featuring Phonte crooning on the hook. It’s a song about being a grown man and seeing a fly lady, and trying to holla in a respectful manner. It’s not necessarily bad, but it contrasts so horribly with the mood set by “Talk My Shit”, you wonder how the guy/chick in charge of sequencing the album actually got a job in the industry. Luckily El Che is pretty diverse and doesn’t stay too long on any one subject matter. While tracks like “Say Wassup” and “Chocolates” unfortunately devastate it’s ability to get you amped and maintain that level of excitement, there are also hints of the bad motherfucking MC that starts the album off as well. “One Armed Push Ups” is a cool, feel good track that describes the strength and perseverance that Rhymefest has had to exhibit over the years to get to this point. On “Last Night” Fest gives a pretty accurate portrayal of the confusion one feels when they wake up in the morning after getting shit faced the night before, as well as their inability to prevent themselves from doing stupid things while wasted. Yet if I were to consistently slap a song off of El Che, other than “Talk My Shit”, it would be without a doubt “Give It To Me” featuring Saigon and Adad. It sounds to me like it’s produced by Just Blaze, because the beat utilizes a sped up frenetic sample, that features dope vocals, and some drums that hit hard. Additionally, all 3 MC’s killed their verses which is surprising because to many, Saigon has lost all sense of relevancy (I think his cameo on The White Rapper Show was a good sign that his career was not going to go in the way we had all hoped it would), I would assume most people have never heard of Adad (If you have and he’s ill, hook us up with a link to some of his shit), and each rapper’s verse has nothing to do with the others. Yet despite the odds against it, the end result is an ill track that is well worth the listen even if you have no interest in the album as a whole.
Yet despite how pleasantly surprised I was by the successes of El Che, there was a lot that I wasn’t feeling either. One song that I was excited to hear was “Chicago”. I know it’s pretty played out to name a song after the city you’re from, but Chicago has never really had an anthem. So I was hoping that this would be it. It turns out “Chicago” has one of the most generic and uninteresting beats on the whole album, and rather than rap about what makes The Windy City great, or it’s ridiculously crazy history, or the out of control violence that has been taking place recently (if you didn’t hear, in the beginning of April they had 40 shootings in 50 hours) Rhymefest seems to talk shit about most of it’s residents (although “males” who wear skinny jeans deserve it), and portray himself as if he was the only worthwhile resident left, which he clearly isn’t. Next, there are just too many songs about the ladies, none of which really would give me the desire to play it multiple times. “Say Wassup” is way too grown mannish for my tastes, “Chocolates” is another played out song about how he can get any girl he wants, “Agony” is about Fest’s interest in S&M and bondage, which may be your shit, but mos def is not mine, and “City Is Fallen” is good song about breaking up, but nothing I’d be fiending to hear tomorrow. Finally, I think when Rhymefest raps as Che in the intro and the 1st intermission, the end result is really good, but the Che theme has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the songs on the album. I’m not saying that to be rude, but Rhymefest literally doesn’t spit a revolutionary or political bar on the entire project other than these Che intermissions, and possibly “Prosperity” if you can find the connection between a song about religious institutions taking the people’s money and one of the world’s most complex and impressive revolutionaries of all time. It’s there, but just not that strong. To take things further there are a lot of lines that are also very un-Che like. For example on “How High” Rhymefest spits “You my Sarah Palin baby we mavericks”. Really? A shout out to Sarah Palin, somewhat portraying her in a positive light? A media whore who has yet to give the people an idea for positive change? Not something I’d expect Che to do in the least bit.
As with most hip-hop albums, Rhymefest’s latest effort has it’s high and low points. Despite the fact that the overall theme of the album doesn’t successfully show itself through the music, Fest still manages to successfully show off his impressive writing ability. Rarely on this project will you find him rapping bars that only go together due to the fact that they rhyme. Each song has a theme, and he does a really good job of not straying from it, while also not letting that theme jeopardize his lyrical ability or wordplay. That’s something that is hard to come by, and for that he deserves some serious recognition. At the same time, the topics that he chose for each song didn’t necessarily grab me as all that interesting. I’m not sure if that’s specific to this project, or if his direction as an artist and my personal tastes just don’t mesh that well. Either way, he has talent in large amounts. Enough so that his future music could spark my interest if I saw his name connected with some quality collabos or a great concept. Yet if that doesn’t really end up being the case, this album did not do enough to make me a bona fide fan who has the uncontrollable urge to find all of the Rhymefest’s music that I have missed in the past. One way or another, it’s worth a listen, and we want to know what you think about it as well. So comment up people.