Rhymefest conducted by James Johnson  

Rhymefest: Brand New

March 2006

Hip-Hop began as a pure art form that was once about simple expression. One could use it not only to express the good and bad going on within their life, but also as a way to relate their lives to those that might be listening. Back in the day, as some would say, more artist were responsible for the things they said, and there was a true knowledge and concern for what was being relayed to the masses.

Lately, that has all gone out the window. With the exception of a few, most rappers could care less about who is listening to what they're saying. More importantly, people are finding it harder and harder to relate to what their so-called leaders are saying.

Rhymefest InterviewFor that reason, some rappers may want to speak more "consciously", but fear a backlash from young consumers. One rapper who appears to be unconcerned with that theory is Rhymefest. It's definitely a good thing too. He's just what we need to turn hip-hop around, and he's already had a head start before now. Along with Kanye West, he wrote the hip-hop classic, "Jesus Walks". The two worked tirelessly at get a spotlight for the track without any success. Kanye would soon release the track via his debut album, "The College Dropout", and the rest would be history.

Now, after a few years of work, Rhymefest is finally ready to drop his album, "Blue Collar." On his first single, "Brand New", he tackles the materialistic content that many are focusing on, and gives his own take. With Rhymefest, hip-hop is truly headed in an all new direction. We recently caught up with the Chicago rhyme slinger to talk about the new album and everything else that's jumping off with him.

MVRemix: Well of course, I have to thank you for your time today.

Rhymefest: It's all good man, but let me warn you - I'm a very intelligent guy. Ask me good questions and challenge me. Work out my brain. I can talk about economics, politics, social issues, and so forth...

MVRemix: Well first, I want you to elaborate on how you got started with everything.

Rhymefest: Well basically, starting with the "Jesus Walks" thing, you know, I don't believe it's my song, or Kanye's song. I believe that it was delivered by the creator. It was inspiration.We were only used as the vehicle for the song. I found the sample. I'm sitting around listening to music, and the sample came up. It really moved me.

MVRemix: You're not the only one man. It moved millions.

Rhymefest: Yeah, and I was like this needs to be a track. Me and Kanye, we grew up together, and we were buddies, so I have it to him. It was originally for my demo. He made the beat, and it was incredible. I wanted to use it for my demo. We made the song, and we took it around to different people. This was around the same time that Jay-Z was doing "The Blueprint." We took it around to different A&R's, and Kanye would set up meetings. They would say "No." They would say, "Is the streets talking about Jesus?"

MVRemix: I'm so glad you mention that because everybody knows how "taboo" it's made out to be when people talk about Jesus in their music.

Rhymefest: Right, but I don't even think it was that we were talking about Jesus. We were talking about social issues, you know. Like, you sell drugs, and you get caught, but God has the mercy upon the sinners. Like prostitution. He wasn't saying go strip! They told us no, because that was not what they wanted us to program ourselves with. Then, Kanye said to me, "Let me have it. Let me finish writing it, and I'll make sure it gets out there". And he did!

MVRemix: I think on top of everything, it pushed a lot of boundaries and opened up doors. If anything, I think it challenged the listener in many ways. Just him talking about other things alone.

Rhymefest: It definitely challenged people to step their game up. After that, you heard more people trying to do what they consider positive rap. I think what people messed up was that this wasn't positive rap. This was real streets rap. We was really talking about what's going on in the streets. That's what I'm doing on my "Blue Collar" album. I'm talking about real streets. When I talk about blue collar, I'm talking about real people. In my neighborhood, it's a tough neighborhood. You might not see six people on the corner selling drugs, but you might see five people at the bus stop. This blue collar album is about that struggle.

MVRemix: I love the idea that you relate your rhymes, lyrics, and thoughts to everyday life and the things that are really going on in the streets. There's so much talk about jewelry and different shit that so many people can not relate to. So many people talk about where they come from, but they can't relate to anything that real people are going through.

Rhymefest: I agree with you, and that's what I'm bringing with "Blue Collar". Let me tell you about the streets, or where I'm from at least. You know, I dropped out of high school. I went back and got a G.E.D. I wasn't satisfied, so I went back to night school and got a Diploma. I wasn't satisfied, so I went to college and studied elementary education. I got out, and was teaching kids. I realized why our school systems are flawed. I grew up with drug addicts in my family. My aunt was a drug addict. My mom was on drugs for a minute. Do you know how it feels, to be in the eighth grade and have a little girl come up to you and say, "My brother just sold you mother some drugs"?

MVRemix: That's deep...

Rhymefest: You know what I'm saying? That's what I've been going through. Cousins not talking, and then growing up to learn that they were molested by uncles and shit. These is the streets that ain't nobody talking about.

MVRemix: It's crazy that you mention all of this, because it goes on in so many families. The same thing happened with cousins in my family.

Rhymefest: You have to deal with this as you're older. My thing is, it happens in a lot of our families, but all a lot of us have to talk about is going to the club and shit. You know, like my thing is that if you wanna talk about the streets, and talk about being gangstas, real gangstas ain't riding around listening to Mobb, and Mafia. Real gangstas is riding around listening to The Isley Brothers.

MVRemix: Exactly. People that put music in music.

Rhymefest: Right. Then you got people saying that Kanye West ain't street.

MVRemix: But he's more street that many people out there. People relate to him and his music.

Rhymefest: Thank you. Is Stevie Wonder not street because he made "Ribbon In The Sky"? Is Marvin Gaye not street because he made "Mercy Mercy Me"? My thing is, I'm not concerned with who street and who is not street. I make good music, and try to let it find a home.

MVRemix: If you can help anyone with your music, and it can't be related to, then what is the true purpose?

Rhymefest: But a lot of us are creating monsters in the people. We are turning the public against what's real, by being superhero action figure niggaz. The people are saying, "You ain't no action figure nigga." I'm saying that you don't have to be. You can just be you! "Blue Collar" is production heavy. You got Just Blaze, No I.D., Cool & Dre, Mark Ronson, Kanye West. It ain't a mixtape and it ain't a compilation. You're buying Rhymefest, and you're going to get a majority Rhymefest.

MVRemix: I can appreciate the fact that the people you featured on your music, they are actually saying something in their music alone.

Rhymefest: I have people that are close to me. Me and Just Blaze are Buddies. Me and Cool & Dre are cool as hell. Me and Kanye, we're like best friends. Me and No I.D. are Muslim brothers. Me and Mark Ronson, I'm signed to his label. So there's a connection with everybody. It ain't just because it was hot, or the person is hot. My thing, O.D.B., I worked with him, and wrote for him before he passed. Mario, Carl Thomas, you know.

MVRemix: I liked how you touched on the materialistic society in "Brand New".

Rhymefest: You know, I take something old and make it new to me.

MVRemix: I just like that there's actually a topic, and the music doesn't get compromised in the effort of making a single.

Rhymefest: Well you know, I wanna sell records. I wanna be famous, but I also realize that I have a duty to tell the truth.

MVRemix: And when you fulfill that duty, people neglect to realize that you come out on top in the end. Those that fulfill this duty last longer, and their career is more fruitful, as opposed to those that don't, and they're gone in a few years. So many people do so many things to get on top, and then they can't keep up.

Rhymefest: I agree with you. Q-Tip told me something, like how you're saying now.

MVRemix: Q-Tip is one of the most under-rated cats out there...

Rhymefest: You right. I'm listening to you brother, and the two of you have a lot in common, as far as how you think and talk.

MVRemix: He's so under-rated, and I'm wishing he would get something out there.

Rhymefest: Yea, he's doing his thing. I appreciate that brother.

MVRemix: I think a lot of people are going to dig the direction you've gone in with your album.

Rhymefest: I hope so. But you know, we need more good brothers like you. I know you think that you're just an individual, but you have power. You got power, and what you say, how you depict your articles, makes a difference as far as what people think about the movement.

MVRemix: What is your ultimate goal with this album?

Rhymefest: It will define a moment in the era we live in. I want it to resonate in the hearts and minds of people, blue collar, and otherwise.

MVRemix: Any shows coming up man? Coming to Cleveland soon?

Rhymefest: Oh you're in Cleveland? I just left Cleveland recently. Cleveland is the real hood man.

MVRemix: So many people don't know that man...

Rhymefest: Yeah, I love Cleveland. Some of them neighborhoods is bad. I was at Hot Sauce Williams on Superior. It was crazy. But you know, I got my hands full. I'll get this album and my idea out to as many people as I can. Deal with brothers like yourself and see if we can organize something to change the game permanently.

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