(AllHipHop Features) Chicago’s finest Rhymefest has gained a reputation as phenomenal writer and MC. But he’s more than just an MC. He’s a Creative. The Grammy, Golden Globe, and Oscar winner is now an actor, appearing in The Public, directed by Emilio Estevez. I talked with Rhymefest about reconnecting with Kanye West, modeling for Kenneth Cole, working on music with Black Thought and Phonte, and why our villages are so important to our communities.
AllHipHop: Before we get to The Public**, I wanted to talk about your incredible documentary In My Father's House. Tell me how was it connecting with your pops and having Showtime be a part of it?**
Rhyme Fest: I think it begins with curiosity. The curiosity of wanting to know your own origin. And if you dive into that type of curiosity like, “Who am I?” “Where am I from?” “What am I made of?” In all these things that I thought about myself growing up, not knowing a parent or be having a relationship with a parent that I thought I should have had.
When I got curious, what I did was purchase the house that my father grew up in with his grand-parents. When we got in the house, everybody was comfortable and happy but me because now I’m in the house that had all these spirits. These walls that had all these spirits that I didn't recognize, but that was so familiar. It pushed me to go find this man.
I left the house man and when I found my father, it turns out he didn’t walk out on me at all. He was homeless for 35 years. So, you know, before you even go to try to find yourself to a parent or get some answers, the first thing that I found out is that you got to start with is Divine forgiveness and no expectation. You go and look for you, you not going to make them do something because whoever they are, is who they was. You're going to figure out the story so that you can close your circle.
When I met my father, it was awkward. It was a lot of different things, but man as we built the house, we built our relationship. This is the first time my mother and father come over the house together and I’m 41 years old. Yo, man, it changed my life. It's the gift that never stopped giving because from In My Father's House, Kenneth Cole saw the documentary and he said, You’re the type of example we need to model for Kenneth Cole.” I got signed to Kenneth Cole.
Emilio Estevez’s mom saw In My Father's House and said, “My son is making a film about homelessness. He's needs this guy in his movie. Emilio a put this guy in your movie.” This is Estevez’s advances man. They’re all about family.
AllHipHop: The Public has such a great cast. What did you learn from the actors that influenced your own artistry?
Rhymes Fest: Well, I tried not to talk to Gabrielle Union. Yo, I know how to treat pretty girls. You ignore them until they be like, “Does this mother**ker know I’m sitting here?” And sure enough, after I didn’t say nothing for a while and then maybe you ask one question, you let them answer and you don’t say much. Then she opened up man, and we sparked a beautiful friendship. Me and Michael Kay Williams sparked a beautiful brotherhood. Me and Taylor Schilling man, we'd be like, so just talking about deep stuff together, you know, like a regular relationship. And what I learned man, from all these actors like Christian Slater is that authenticity is the best way to create anything.
I'm playing this character Big George and he's not as verbally articulated as me. But so how do I do this without speaking? Man, it's got to be in you on the inside. The articulation has to be a conversation George has with himself and expresses it through the way he moves, through the way he looks at you, or doesn't look at you. Like, bro, authenticity is the key to peace. See comparison is the key to failure. Every actor had a different method and they were authentic to themselves. And it was incumbent upon me to find my method. I mean, that's what I learned. Just, you know, authenticity is the key man. And all these actors had a degree of something that made them undoubtedly them.
AllHipHop: You hold the distinction of having a Golden Globe, Oscar, and a Grammy but you never let that define you. How do you manage that?
Rhymefest: Because I’m not chasing trinkets and I'm not chasing money. I'm chasing a great experience. DJ Jazzy Jeff took me around the world three times. I just climbed mountains and saw God in different places. I found myself in Africa, and in the mountains of Taiwan. I'm not chasing nothing but the best parts of me.
AllHipHop: How did those worldwide experiences shape you as an MC?
Rhymefest: I discovered that I’m more than an MC. I’m a creative.
Yo, I ran for office and I only lost by 100 votes after I took the dude to a run-off who was an incumbent because I knew how to reimagine community. It's the reason you could put me in a movie and I’ma shine. It’s the reason I can write not only songs but books. I can write scripts because my gift is not MCing. That's a symptom of my gifts. That's an offshoot of what the gift can do. My gift is perspective. Perspective makes me a creative.
AllHipHop: Where did you learn to be so community driven?
Rhymefest: I was in Senegal with one of my friends lives there. I said to a brother, “Do you think African are complicit in the American slave trade and do they owe African Americans anything? He laughed at me and he said, “You sound like a colonist. Only a colonist would come to a continent and look at every everybody who is the same color and accuse us all of a crime because we all have the same color. That’s what they do to you right? Man, W.E.B. DuBois is as different from Clarence Thomas as Italian is from an Irish person. It’s about values. He said, “Go home, get your people tight, and take care of your village.” Zora Hurston said, “All my skin folk ain’t my kin folk.” Even tho we’re the same color we all are not in the same tribe. It’s about villages.
Look at Denmark Vesey. We would run the South right now if he would have succeeded and who turned him in? Somebody of the same color. You can't tell me they were the same people.
AllHipHop: What makes Chicago such a unique city?
Rhymefest: New York is the financial capital of the world from California is the film and technology capital. But Chicago is the home of the blues. It’s where people who migrated from Mississippi came to find a new life but found out Chicago was just a colder version of it.
That's why you get artists like Chance, Kanye, Lupe. Also, Chicago has produced Louis Farrakhan, Jesse Jackson, and Barack Obama. Martin Luther King couldn’t even do what he had needed to do unless he came to live in Chicago to see what real racism looked like man. He said, “I've been everywhere in the South and Chicago is one of the most segregated, racist places in the country.” And you know, he got hit in the head with a brick like, “F**k you nigga!
What does hardness produce? It produces diamonds. It produces great people who come through so much. That’s why I believe the most notable artists from Chicago have been the most conscience. The ones that everybody really hold up and revere are the ones who bring a holistic message. Not just a gangsta message. I don't gangsterism works in Chicago, in terms of music. It's too complicated. In a lot of ways, Chicago is almost the consciousness of the county.
AllHipHop: Who broke the ice between you and Kanye so you two could reconnect?
Rhymefest: Me and Kanye need each other, and we want to have a relationship. But you can't have a relationship with a married man and you’re not good with his wife. Because when you’re married, you’re in a band. HAHA! And not matter how much I want to be cool with Black Thought, it won’t work if I’m not cool with Ahmir (Questlove).
AllHipHop: I was excited to see you two have a conversation like grown men.
Rhymefest: It's important and that's her world. Some people were like, “Why would you go on that show and you know what that show represents.” Man, we are filled with so many judgments of each other. It’s always like “Stay on this side.” This is the world that my brother and his wife are living in right now. Kim reached out to me to have a conversation because Kanye was like, “Yo, this is my friend. This is my brother and he’s gonna be around, period”. She said, “Okay, let’s talk.” Because she executive produces that show, that’s their world, and I didn't have a problem or any fear. That’s my brother, from my village and it was good for us to squash everything and rebuild because we have so much more to offer.
AllHipHop: I talked to Phonte and I forgot to ask him this. What the hell is going on with you, him, and Black Thought?
Rhymefest: People were saying that we all were a group but were not. We did do a song together that is going to be released this summer.
AllHipHop: All three of yall?
Rhymefest: All three of us. We did a song together that's coming and basically my album is going to feature Black Thought, Phonte, Raheem Devaughn. I'm looking for Devin the Dude. I really want to get him on there. We're expecting to drop in July.
AllHipHop: Who’s producing?
Rhymefest: You man its dope as f**k! I got S1 from Dallas who did “Power” for Kanye and “Murder to Excellence” on Watch the Throne. He’s producing most of the project. We got young people from the village too like Masego. He did a track for me for on the soundtrack for The Public because I did all the music for the film.
I told Kenneth Cole, “Yo, KC bro, I'm not gonna do anything with Kenneth Cole unless Kenneth Cole comes to Chicago and does something with the kids.” So, he sponsored a fashion show that we do for the young people in Chicago. I told Emilio, “I'm not gonna even be in the movie unless you let them make the music, put some people on, and you come to Chicago for charity. And they did all of it.