Published May 23, 2010On El Che, Rhymefest tosses aside his persona as hip-hop's blue-collar everyman and reinvents himself as a persecuted revolutionary, followed by government agents and dogged by the horrors of commercial rap. Almost no one is spared Fest's lyrical wrath. "Prosperity" is both a pointed calling out of crooked televangelists who prey on people's desperation and a broader indictment of materialism. "Chicago" is equal parts tribute to Rhymefest's hometown and a kick in the face to pop rappers and scarf-wearing hip-hop hipsters. On "One Arm Push Up," he talks about having to fight against industry politics. Che isn't just an album filled with righteous rage though. Rhymefest takes time off from the revolution to team up with Phonte on "Say Whassup" to show fellas how to holler at a lady like a grown man. He takes that to the next level on "Agony," where he and Glenn Lewis let all the females know how they get down in bed. "Give it to Me" is just a straight lyrical massacre, with Fest, Adad and a surprisingly revitalised-sounding Saigon each spitting a hot verse. El Che is a big win for Rhymefest, letting him both show off his diversity and reminding people that he's still one of the best straight-up lyricists going.
Where did the whole Che thing come from? I know your real name is Che [Smith], but there's also a strong allusion to Che Guevara?
I wanted to do that without totally biting the Che Guevara images, because in all actuality, Che Guevara would not have approved of anything like this, where there was money being made and it wasn't going to a cause. But when you have a name, a real name, like Che, it's definitely something, whether you want to or not, something that you have to live up to. How could I be named Che and then do all songs about dancing in the club and who got the fattest ass? That would be an oxymoron to who I am. I think there's something very important in a name. So I think when we name ourselves and name our children, I think we have to think about what the future will look like. I named my son Solomon, and when people look at him they say, "Oh, Solomon, the wise king," and I think he's growing into that role. It's evident even in hip-hop. You see people who are Lil' this and Young that. What do they do? They act just like their name dictates.
One of the songs that really made me think was "Prosperity." What was going on at the moment when you decided to write that? Were you just sitting at home watching Creflo Dollar and...
It wasn't Creflo Dollar. It was a guy named Thomas Kearny. He's like, "God wants to save your life! And all you got to do is buy my red blood-of-Jesus prayer cloth." And then you hear the girl call in, "Yeah, I just want a man" and he's like, "You're going to get that man. I hear the Lord is talking to me now... just take the red blood-of-Jesus prayer cloth, rub it on your knee and in three days that man is going to knock on your door."
What do you think that kind of religion says about the world we live in?
It says that [religion] is not personal, it's all business. Why go to church? Stay home with Jesus. But it's everything; it's music, the government. We're in a world that's basically telling its citizens "We're going to get what we can get. You better get what you can get. Everybody's on their own." The fight for me is that although the world is saying that can you still build a community? Can you still build brotherhood and loyalty? Can you still build a family? That's what Che is about, trying to stop that corporate group thought. Have you ever noticed that even artists think like that? Like, "This is my club song, and this one is for the hoes right here. And you gotta have a positive song, so this is my positive song." They think like that. You're not even a businessman and you're thinking business-capitalistic-strategic, instead of thinking, "Man, that felt good. Did you feel it? Did you like this song?" (Allido/Sony)