Four years ago when “Blue Collar” dropped I anointed Che Smith b/k/a Rhymefest the next great thing in hip-hop. “Rhymefest achieves his potential with an outstanding debut album that shows the promise of a long and entertaining career to come.” With that much potential it’s amazing that this is only Smith’s second commercially released album in all that time, but that’s not to say Che hasn’t been busy. In fact one of Rhymefest’s mixtapes was declared a hip-hop classic on this website and another was very well received, making it all the more perplexing that his label Allido Records didn’t do more to put Che in stores. Perhaps label owner Mark Ronson was too busy recording “Here Comes the Fuzz 2.0” instead.
Thankfully in 2010 all parties are on the same page and the Chicago native’s overdue return to retail is finally upon us. With “El Che” Rhymefest has vowed to live up to his namesake Che Guevara and put a message in the music, stating a belief in the power of names shaping the kind of man you are or act like (and extending that to his own son by naming him Solomon). Of course making such a proclamation when you’re best known for comedy tracks like “Brand New” and verbally pugilistic songs like “Dynomite” is dangerous, but thankfully Che is more like his close friend Kanye West than political activists like Immortal Technique. Note that’s not a diss on Tech in any way – he’s absolutely brilliant at what he does – but his militantly intelligent raps are usually focused on making you think first and have fun later. Che is willing to put a message in his music but he’s not doing so at the expense of the playful attitude that first got him noticed. The lightly and airy “Chocolates” shows off his fun side by looking at the women of the world as a box of candy, and more than anything Che wants to get a taste:
“My grandmom said ‘Hey grandson!
Time gon’ come when you gotta choose one’
I was like ‘Big Momma, I ain’t done!’
But I was 21 so she said I was dumb
and full of that ch-ch-ch-cho-ch-chocolate
Yeah, and I don’t know which one to pick
I had Tammy, Sarita, Rasheeda, Regina
Hall & Oates ‘Maneater’ walk like a cheetah
All men cheat, don’t exclude me either
Peppermint Patty got a brother so eager
I would take a bite and put her back in the box
So when the next man came he ain’t want her at all
And when she, took off her clothes it’s sugar overdose
I am bouncin off the walls, I was havin a ball!
And I felt like a kid in a candy store
Mouth full of Milk Duds sayin HAND ME MORE!”
And lest you think Rhymefest was giving up on his braggart swagger, Che gets colder than Chicago in December on “Talk My Shit” and proudly puts himself on a level none should even try to duplicate:
“Aw shit, he’s about to spaz, hit the off switch
Nah bitch, first 48, you cowards all snitch
He is like a chick flick, cater to them hoes again
I am not the Soulja Boy, I’m the Flamethrower Man
Reppin for the real niggaz, niggaz that will kill niggaz
Black on black crime slavery we all field niggaz
Used to be on J Records, wrote some Kanye records
Next Grammy just mine, this is El Che’s record!”
If you were getting the impression there’s a high level of testosterone to “El Che” you’re not mistaken. Rhymefest trains like a UFC fighter on the plucky strings of “One Arm Push Up,” noting he came from a “little crib, one room” but came so far through hard work he’s got “one life limitless, one chance, gimme this.” The single syllable flow of “Last Night” punctuates some very Kanye-esque samples as Che tries to put a night of debauchery together like a puzzle with a whole bunch of pieces missing. “Don’t mix Red Bull wit’cho pills, you’ll be seein purple trails/like mixing Henny and gin, you won’t remember a thing.” Always good advice. One might suspect “How High” is more of the same, but it’s actually the verbal and musical high of recording with Little Brother and Darien Brockington on a track that reverberates with guitar rock and horny horn soul.
In some respects Rhymefest is a victim of his own high expectations, because when you’ve already won a Grammy for helping Kanye with a worldwide hit critics and fans alike will set high goals for your own shit. Che Smith doesn’t do poorly on “El Che” though. In fact soulful autobiographical tracks like “City Is Falling” with Slique singing on the hook show that Che is reaching a whole new level of maturity lyrically and musically, talking about the struggles of parenthood to a degree which more fathers should. Rhymefest makes fun of televangelists on “Prosperity” and saying “they should be sued for spiritual damages” but even through the jokes at the end of the day he “just wants to know what Christ is.” It’s safe to say Che is growing as an artist, and yet at the same time he’s been criticized for being aggressively homophobic on some of his mixtapes. It’s hard to imagine Che having that kind of hate when he makes music so many people can love and appreciate, and while “El Che” doesn’t exceed the standard he set with his debut you’ll enjoy this CD too.