A Star is Born Vol.1 (Mixtape)

Artist: RhymefestTitle: A Star is Born Vol.1 (Mixtape)Rating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Max Herman

Largely due to the remarkable success of Kanye West’s single “Jesus Walks,” Rhymefest has quickly gone from being an under-the-radar MC to major label signee. Long before he helped co-write this Grammy-winning single, though, Rhymefest was known as one of

Chicago’s finest MCs—albeit one who opted to stay well below the industry spotlight. The title of one of his most memorable songs, “Keep the Fame,” (with Percee P and Vakill), said it all. Some eight years after this collaboration, the tables have turned.

With his foot now in the industries’ door, Rhymefest realizes that he can rock on a major label and still be himself: a well-rounded MC with an accessible yet airtight flow. But before Fest drops his major label debut (Blue Collar Experience on J Records), he’s got a mixtape, A Star is Born Vol.1 (Allido Records), to provide a preview of his lyrical prowess. With a push from DJ/producer Mark Ronson, this Chicago-bred Indianapolis, IN rep makes bountiful use of the mixtape format. While it runs under 40 minutes, this collection features notable collaborations with MC’s like the late ODB (Dirt McGirt), impersonated battles and plenty of exclusive verses.

One thing this mixtape may leave listeners craving is original beats, which are rarely found here. Yet Rhymefest deftly rhymes over any instrumental thrown his way—especially when he lifts Scarface’s classic, piano-driven beat from “My Block” to kick some of his unadulterated “Tales From the Hood.” Another interesting inclusion is Fest’s own version of “Jesus Walks.” Using the same beat as Kanye did, Fest unleashes his reflective verse, which was unfortunately cut and replaced from the radio single. Like the aforementioned track, much of this mixtape showcases Rhymefest’s ability to hold things down solo. Whether he’s trying to cure MCs of their mad rapper stigma (“All They Do Is Dis”) or just letting the world know who he is (“Forty-Two Bars of Fury”), Fest establishes that he’s ready to be heard worldwide.

Some of his most creative moments, though, come in the form of his simulated battles—specifically the one he concocts between Nelly and Krs-One. Not only does he stunningly imitate Nelly’s St. Louis drawl and the commanding flow of Krs-One, but he gets the lyrical inflections down cold (Sample KRS lyric: “You’re an asshole who can’t cook with no ingredients/I create students/you create deviants”). Amusing moments like these aptly provide further variety to the mix and demonstrate Fest’s creativity on the mic.

While Rhymefest was the brains behind the mega-hit “Jesus Walks,” we really won’t know if the masses will be down with his Hip-hop until his official debut, Blue Collar Experience, drops later this year. Until then, A Star Is Born Vol. 1 sees this veteran Chicago MC get a second lease at his Hip-hop life, and he doesn’t waste a minute in reintroducing himself on this rock-solid mixtape.

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