Friday, March 19, 2010

Rhymefest Interview

So I interviewed Chicago rapper Rhymefest for spinner.com as part of their huge SXSW preview - they interviewed 2000 bands for it! He had a lot to say and my spinner piece only contained some of it. Here's the rest. Please enjoy, and check out his album when it comes out May 18th.


Sorry about my phone problems. It's hard figuring out technology!
We live in the future, but it's complicated. I've been saying that for awhile – we live in a bright new future at the price of our freedom.
What's the freedom that's lost?
Let me give an example: with the invention of the iPad, bookstores will go out of business, like how Netflix put blockbuster out of business. So when that happens and you're getting all your knowledge from an iPad, when college students are [using it] instead of a bookbag, it's convenient. What happens is independent bookstores where the government can't track what the people are buying, what they're reading, [you won't have those soon]. It's a way to burn books. It's all electronic. Our government is in a position where the whole thing is to gather information on everybody, and what everybody's doing – for purposes of selling things to stimulate the economy, and also to get information on who's doing what. It's the price of our freedom – iPhones cost $200, which ain't jack – but you can't do no crime with no iPhone – they know where you at. We satellite tracked you! We can listen to you on your iPhone and as a matter of fact we can blow it up in your hand! It's the bright new future. The great thing about it is it's introduced to children as 'the way things work' – kind of like racism.
Maybe it's the children who find a way around it.

They will be the ones to fight it. They'll be the ones to fight revolutions, and to do that you need to know who you're fighting and why. To do that, you need training. For that, you need rappers and hip-hop, that's what our job is supposed to be. We're supposed to be where you get information about what's going on in the street. This is why it's important to have albums like El Che or artists like Immortal Technique.
Dead Prez...you ever worked with them?
No I haven't. It's unfortunate, certain artists doing stuff like that are almost too intelligent to work with other artists like that, so it's like outsmarting ourselves. We have to do things all together to cause real change.

When did you first start rapping?
When did I get money for rap? Whenever my first rap battle was and I won $100. When did I start making rap a profession when I could support my children? When did I first get a cheque for rapping that was able to buy me a house? 2005. I guess it's all relative.

How would you describe your sound?

My sound is...whatever the soundtrack to your life is – when you're riding down the highway on a roadtrip and you're looking back on your life and thinking about the things you've been through, you're playing Bullet, with me and Citizen Cope ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_56YPH50bGI ) . When you're playing Brand New because you got your brand new car and you think back to the time [that song] as poppin'. It's the soundtrack to your emotions. When you think about a Chicago artist, or at least the ones that a lot of people know, Chicago is the home of the blues, and I think unintentionally a lot of the rappers encompass that – in the sense of hardship, soulfulness, a blue collar type of vibe...struggle. Wintertime, violence, the absence of jobs. It creates that type of music.
I know about the cold, I'm calling from Toronto.
Oh, Toronto! How are the games?
The gays?
No, the games!
The gangs?
THE GAMES! The winter games.
Ohhh! That's in Vancouver!
Goddamn man, I didn't say the gangs! You're preoccupied with this! You're like an old person – 'where the games at?' 'oh, there's plenty of gangs – the crips and bloods. All kinds of gays and gangs.'
I guess I just wanted to impress you -
With Toronto's violent organisations. 'Where are the gay gangs!? You gotta see 'em, they wear pink bandanas – call themselves 'Dip Set Canada' – it's Dip Set Canada versus the Fig Leaves.
What are your musical influences?
Growing up, the music that struck me was the Scarfaces, the Geto Boys, Biz Markie was one of my favorite rappers – I loved any rappers that expressed vulnerability in their songs. Slick Rick had it, 2Pac was vulnerable. I never went for the 'I'm invincible, nothing happens to me, and life is great' bravado rappers. I apply music to life, to my everyday existance. The people who won through struggle are the people who resonated musically with me – this is what makes Michael Jacksona and Stevie Wonder and James Brown so great. James Brown could say [sings] 'Please, Please don't go' but then it's The Big Payback. Michael Jackson could sing 'I'm bad' and he could ask why the world is like it is in Human Nature or They Don't Care About Us. You gotta have vulnerability to be viable. Contradiction is beautiful. People have to stop acting like contradiction makes you not real. You're not real when you're saying 'I kill everybody and I'm invulnerable', but when you openly speak and say 'yeah man, I'm conflicted', that's beautiful.
DMX is great for that too – 'I'm gonna spit on you/yeah I know, it's pitiful'
DMX will say 'My mother, my father/I love 'em, I hate 'em'
How did you get your name?
Somebody called me Rhymefest, like it was a superhero name. I [said] 'yes, I am this festival of rhymes you speak of'', but now I that I know better and flow better, I'd rather be called Che. My real name [is more appropriate] for what my music is. I'm 32 years old, I can't go around calling myself Rhymefest. Che is the revolution that I'm on, that's what I'm about, that's my name, and that's why it's the name of my album. The album is all turned in, all done. I'm happy with it – I'm ready to go. I did a song with Saigon that I think is really cool. I did a contest called Give It To Me contest, just to give a rapper a chance to do a verse on a nationally distributed album, and this guy Adai won. I listened to a thousand wack-ass 16 bar verses and picked the one I thought was hot. I didn't want anyone on there who I thought was doing it just for some money – I did have money, all the people who contributed verses got paid, but I didn't want – Phonte would have done it for free, no matter what. When I asked them to do it, they did it – then I sent them some money. We are the last ones – Little Brother, Rhymefest, Slaughterhouse – we're the last ones that rap like we do. There's only a few of us left and we have to take care of each other. We can't be Hollywood about it.
I want Jay Electronica to work out.
I think it'll work out, he's with the right people. Bottom line is that people make excuses to deny something, and excuses have to do with everything but music, which is unfortunate.
What's your biggest vice?
I got my son in the car, you want to embarass daddy? I'll tell you my vice – he knows what my problems are. My biggest vice is selfishness; I'm working on that though, by putting myself in situations where I have to give more or where I give and it makes me feel so good that I continue to do it. Understanding what giving mean – it doesn't mean you don't get anything back, giving just means you're not looking for anything. I'll give you an example – we breathe and we give the trees carbon dioxide, and the trees in turn give us option. But we don't go up to trees and say 'yo, what's up with that oxygen?' It's something that happens naturally. True giving happens naturally, because you know when you give, you receive. In order for me not to be as selfish, I need to understand that I have to give naturally.
It relates to you saying you only wanted to work with people who want to work with you?
I've never been like that with artists – I haven't been like that in music, I've been like that in personal relationships which has hindered my musical career. I've wasted a lot of time being selfish – sometimes you don't realise how one thing has to do with another. You don't realise how if you're not right by your wife, then you may not make music as quick, because you ain't got no peace in the home. If you're not right with your mom, it may delay your album coming out because you dealing with personal family stuff. Sometimes you have to give in order for the rest of your life to flow correctly.
What is your musical guilty pleasure?

My musical guilty pleasure is talk radio. Nobody wants to hear talk radio, but it's music to me because I'm a lyricist, and talk radio is debate – it's lyricism. The art of battling. I learn from it. If anybody else gets in the car, they're like 'will you please turn off NPR?' Aw man, “Welcome to This American Life” - aww yeah! I listen to Terry Gross. I'm an NPR fan. Don't try me with that! I don't listen to as many podcasts as I should, because I lost my iPod with the podcast stuff on it, and when I'm on my internet am I supposed to go to the radio or am I supposed to go to dope Youtube videos or my Netflix? I think I'll go to those.
I go to the messageboards.
Oh, I learned to stop doing that a long time ago. It's no good for an artist. I would encourage all artists to stay off of the boards. Do not read them. The only thing that they're designed to do is make you quit. Like, you'll find yourself arguing with a fuckin' eleven year old – not meaning my son who's also eleven – but you'll find yourself arguing with twelve year olds. I remember someone writing 'Rhymefest's existence disgusts me' and for like five hours I was asking 'why does my existence disgust someone?' I was in the studio – how am I supposed to write a rap under that kind of pressure? I had to go sit on a rock and put my hand on my chin and think to myself how I could make my physical presence un-disgusting to this one human being. I've found people on Twitter will attack me, and I will address them – not in a combative manner, just like 'what did I do?' and I'll give them my number to address me and one of two things will happen. Either they'll call me, and I'll answer and they'll say 'I can't believe you're really on the phone!', really starstruck. Now you're the biggest fan. Or they'll never hit you again, never send another message. All they wanted was some damn attention, and if I gotta give attention to a hundred thousand people, I'll never get work done. You just gotta keep your eyes straight and keep making music.
Beatles or Rolling Stones?
The bowling stones?
Rolling Stones.
Now I'm the old man - “oh those bowling stones”. Beatles were more musically revolutionary than the Rolling Stones, but I like the Rolling Stones better because I believe the Beatles were a government project. I believe they gave kids acid in colleges and then hooked this boy band up, and had them play music to subdue real revolution.
Which government?

Western governments. The FBI, the British version of the FBI – can you use your flux capacitor to google that for me? The western world works together as far as what the agenda will be. I do believe that certain musical groups are used as little weapons of mass destruction; I believe that's the case now, when you look at certain rappers that just rap ignorant. They don't understand. You can't blame them – that's like blaming the bomb. You have to blame the bomb-maker or the bomb deployer or the government. Rappers don't understand that they're being used as weapons to deploy ignorance. When people in Africa are like “Yo I don't wanna speak Swahili, I wanna speak english slang, wear my hat like this, pants sagging and wear a gold chain” It doesn't mean anything when you're in Africa and you've got mountains of gold. What they're doing is dumbing down the populations of other nations and making them forget their own culture.
So a guy in Senegal singing 'you're a window shopper' isn't the best thing?

A guy in Senegal singing 'window shopper' or 'birthday sex' is losing touch with who he is – African music is better than rap music! A guy in Uganda singing 'clean on the inside, clean on the outside' is fucking his life up and don't even realise it. What they're doing is incorporating lost slaves who don't know themselves into their lives.
They're taking things on needlessly. I do wanna hear an African MC though.

There are two kinds of African Mcs. One is Akon, who is a sing-rapper, then you have the ones in Africa who have to act American to be hot. You got those in Europe too. You got Africans in Europe who want to totally forget who they are. Their parents are one generation away but you're calling yourself British? I get into this argument with my African European friends all the time. Mexicans don't come here and say I'm no longer Mexican, I am American. It's dark people being told 'you don't wanna be that'. I know three Congolese who tell me they French. Come on, I know Congo is rotten – but you're not French.
What is in your SXSW survival kit?
Since I know it's in Texas and everything is bigger in Texas, I'm gonna bring a big spoon for the food. Gotta have all your one liner battle rap lines to add to your flow ready; there are gonna be a lot of rappers there and you might get tested. You gotta have them corny little battle rhymes ready. You gotta bring a couple condoms just in case it go down. Bring a T shirt because the weather might be nice, so bring your Hawaiian shirt with the flowers. Skyzoo wil be there so I'll bring my Skyzoo CD to be signed.
He then greets someone he passes on the street

Got to keep in contact with the people in the hood, you know.
I kind of know about that. I live in a Portugese neighbourhood and try to say hi to everyone
You gotta keep your Portugese hood pass! 'My Portugese pass is good, baby!'
You've done a bit of writing for Kanye West. Did you help write the I'm a let you finish speech?
I gotta take credit for that. It was all my idea, and it was a bad idea. The whole Taylor Swift thing was me. I said 'man you know what you should do...' Blame me. Don't blame him.

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