Rhymefest – El Che
Rosehip Records: 2010
Purchase on Amazon
To know me outside of cyberspace is to know that I wear my “extreme” leftist political views like a branded badge of honor. Though much of my political activism and public theoretical ranting has toned down within the past few years, the co-option of leftist practice, ideology, and iconography within popular discourse is known to strike a chord with me. Even after years, the iconographic rape of Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s image for T-shirts in suburban mall chain store like Hot Topic still bothers me. The idea and spirit of Che’s life can never be appropriated or sullied by revisionism, so when I heard Rhymefest, neither the most popular or overtly political rapper was naming his new album El Che, I was a little more than apprehensive. His Lil’ John assisted “Angry Black Man on the Elevator” showed he could take it there, but I still had my doubts. Ironically, Fest’s birth name is Che Smith, and the title alludes more to him capturing the essence of Che’s legacy than making El Che a concept rap album about the Argentinean revolutionary in contemporary America.
After the descent, but mostly forgotten Blue Collar, Rhymefest has kept his name within rap circles with three mixtapes, some guest spots, and meeting conservative Brit Parliament member David Cameron to discuss rap’s affect on youth. Yet, El Che, whether concept or “essence capturer,” fails on both accounts. Loaded with braggadocios battles raps, swagger proclamations, songs about loose women, songs about woman he/we should cherish, and oh yeah, gettin’ that cash, Fest’s attempts at political content and rebel vigor are less than moving. While most mainstream Americans fail to realize that most revolutionaries and activist love to drink, fuck and dance, most try to do it outside of environs that recapitulate the system they are criticizing and fighting against. Thus, the problem with El Che is not he’s making such songs, but the style and execution of them. Yes, let’s celebrate the private (and at times public) yearn to dance and fuck: liberate one’s desire, but how about doing it without representing women as objects with language that demeans them.
I also always find it amusing when rappers conjure up the Panthers, post-NIO Malcolm, or Che, and proceed to talk about making money through capitalist means for the sole purpose of self-success. The individuals mentioned where all adamant anti-capitalist. Beyond white supremacy, police brutality, sexism, homophobia, etc., men like Che posited capitalism as the number one enemy of Third World people of color. Capitalism was/is our ultimate colonizer, violator and exploiter. So the ways in which Fest talks about women, money and struggle, I strongly wonder where the hell Fest is capturing Ernesto’s spirit or ideology. The idea and music never seem to meet eye to eye. It’s comical in a grating way. It’s a blasphemous cultural exercise in the celebration of rebellion without knowing how or why people rose up against “the system”.
But many of you are asking “ninja, beyond all that drag what about the music!?!! Is it quality.” Well yes and no. El Che will fade into obscurity with much of today’s rap music. It wants to have that big sound: horns, lush keys, hard hitting drums, club like bass lines, somewhere between backpack and mainstream, but the sound lacks gravitas, soul and cleverness. Even the quests don’t add much to the mix, while Fest comes off uninspired. He name drops Ye left and right, lacks focus, and loses the listeners with his contradictory lyrics. Yes, there are good songs here, but none that will capture the spirit of Che, our times and its struggles. Rhymefest typically comes off as one of the most honest down to earth dudes in rap during interviews, so I/we would like to see him be successful making great music, but with El Che, Fest seems to be an emcee that only registers in small doses. There are songs to be enjoyed, but nothing that will be the soundtrack of today’s movement of movements.