Che Smith, known by the stage name of Rhymefest, is an American hip hop artist and rapper from the south side of Chicago whose first official album, Blue Collar, was released on July 11, 2006. The Grammy Award winning co-writer of Kanye West's "Jesus Walks" is signed to Mark Ronson's Allido Records.
For years, Rhymefest gained the reputation as one of the most charismatic, intelligent and humorous rappers on the freestyle battle rapping circuit. He gained attention because his lyrics were both witty and honest, and addressed the daily struggles that the average working person goes through, and not the over-glorified life of a drug dealer or clubgoer. He returned to Scribble Jam in 2003, where he defeated Yo Momma's Pimp to capture the title. Rhymefest was born January 1, 1977 on the south side of Chicago in Jeffrey Manor. Although he dropped out of South Shore High School, he would go on to earn his GED and even enroll in college at Columbia College in Chicago to study radio broadcasting at night school. He also worked as a substitute teacher to inner-city preschoolers at the time. In addition to all this, he was also building a reputation as one of the better known freestyle battle rappers in the Midwest. After enrolling at Columbia however, he learned his girlfriend was pregnant. He married her and moved to Indianapolis because she had been attending Purdue University in nearby West Lafayette. His son, Solomon, was born in 1998 and Rhymefest was forced to work various low-paying jobs, including one as a janitor at a university, to support his family while his wife went to school. When his wife graduated and went on to get a job as a chemical engineer, Fest was then able to devote his time to his true passion, music.
While living in Indiana, Rhymefest was introduced to Mark Ronson by then manager Ron "DJ Indiana Jones" Miner. In February of 2003, Rhymefest signed his record contract with producer and DJ Mark Ronson's Allido Records, a subsidiary of Sony BMG's J Records, managed by Clive Davis. This was despite an offer on the table from long-time friend and producer Kanye West to sign with his own record company, GOOD Music. Fest attributes this decision to having a better musical relationship with Ronson and also not wanting to be in an "employer-employee" relationship with West, where difficulties in business could lead to a disruption of their musical relationship and even friendship. Fest had a great admiration for Ronson's ability to mesh music of different genres.
Rhymefest was featured on the track "Bout to Get Ugly" on Ronson’s album "Here Comes the Fuzz” in 2003 along with Anthony Hamilton. He was also featured on the official soundtrack to the films The Rundown, Take The Lead, and Big Momma's House 2 with the track Private Dancer along with We Got Action. Fest was also a part of the Marc Ecko video game, "Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure" in 2005 and was most recently featured on the Kanye West track, "We Can Make It Better," on "Hurricane Relief: Come Together Now," a tribute CD for Hurricane Katrina.
Along the way, Fest worked with his childhood friend West quite often. A mixtape released in 2001 entitled "Raw Dawg" was largely produced by the then relatively-unknown producer, West. More recently and most notably, he collaborated with West on the record "Jesus Walks," off the ground-breaking album The College Dropout. On February 15, 2005, Rhymefest earned the Grammy Award for Best Rap Song, along with West, for co-writing the song. Rhymefest had the initial idea for the song and discovered the sample used in the song, Arc Choir's "Walk with Me." Rhymefest played the song for West and then gave it to him to use for the album West was working on at the time, "The College Dropout." Fest didn't have a record contract at that time and he knew that if West could produce it and become famous, he would be able to gain some notoriety from it as well. Fest co-wrote the chorus and first verse with West and even wrote and performed a third verse that did not make the final cut, but is performed on his mixtape, "A Star is Born."
Rhymefest's much-anticipated first album "Blue Collar" was released July 11, 2006. On the album he works closely with long-time collaborator and producer Mark Ronson, as well as with producers Kanye West, No I.D., Just Blaze and Cool and Dre. The first single off the album is entitled, "Brand New," and is produced by and features West with a video featuring renowned Hip hop model Bria Myles. Artists he collaborates with on "Blue Collar" are Citizen Cope, Carl Thomas, Mario and the late Dirt McGirt.