Che “Rhymefest” Smith

World Music Foundation Podcast | Season 1, Episode 17

“Hip Hop is an alien way of communicating.”

About this Episode

In this week’s episode John meets with high-powered, prolific creator, Che “Rhymefest” Smith to discuss Hip-Hop, his upcoming album, and Hollywood acting debut, along with topics ranging from Chicago’s youth, spirituality, various life changing trips around the world, and much more. Rhymefest’s upcoming album is titled Love Lessons Part 1, and as you’ll hear in this conversation, Love is a topic at front of mind right now for Che. This episode also includes the world-premier of an amazing track from the upcoming album, featuring Black Thought (aka Tariq Trotter of The Roots) & Raheem DeVaughn. Rhymefest has won multiple Grammys, a Golden Globe, and an Academy Award, but as he says: that stuff you can just Google; in this conversation he goes much deeper.

(Intro Music Plays)

John Gardner: Hello! Hello! And welcome again to the world music foundation podcast. I’m your host, John Gardner. And today, I am through the roof to bring you my conversation with hip-hop icon, writer, rapper, Che “Rhymefest” Smith

The world music foundation podcast is produced by The World Music Foundation. We’re a non-profit with a pretty simple mission to open minds through music and build connections and respect across cultures. We do that through interviews with amazing artists like our guest today, Rhymefest. You know, in the intro, I say hip-hip icon, writer, and he is so much more than that. We’re gonna get into a lot of the things he’s been up to, including acting in a Hollywood motion picture recently. But before that, I think I need to make some changes to my recording setup here. I have had to move my studio where I’m recording from. And we’re getting some outside sound. Let me close the window real quick. 

Okay. So that answers that question. Apparently Lake Michigan wanted to be a part of this episode. So if you heard water sounds throughout the intro, that is because I missed one little detail before clicking record. I had to close the window, sorry about that. It kinda sounded like we’re recording in some tropical getaway. But no, it’s 28 degrees fahrenheit here in Chicago. I just had the window open cause they’re really blasting the heat in here today for some reason. But speaking of Chicago, I guess it’s a good segway into our guest because he is a Chicago icon. Che Smith, of course better known as Rhymefest, has multiple Grammys. He has an academy award, a golden globe, all kinds of accolades. But most importantly, what he has is a message. We speak in this interview about all kinds of things. He goes deep, he goes into what’s been on his mind lately, and there’s a recurring theme. It’s community, love, respect. And I found out after the interview, about his upcoming album. His upcoming album, very fittingly, is called Love Lessons Part 1.

(Instrumental of Track From Album Plays)

John Gardner: This track you’re hearing in the background right now is an instrumental from that upcoming album. But that’s not the only sneak peek we have for you. At the end of this episode, we will actually have a World Premiere of one of the tracks from Rhymefest’s upcoming album Love Lesson Part 1. The track is called OG Philosophy and it features Black Thought and Raheem DeVaughn. And if it’s any indication to how amazing this album is gonna be, I’m through the roof about it. Itunes says that I’ve listened to this track already 30 times, and I think it might be underestimating. I’m amped to bring it to you just so I won’t be the only one to know about this great music. I want people to be as excited about this upcoming album as I am so I can have some people to talk to about it. It’s just way too great. You’re gonna have to tune in to the end to listen. But at this time, let me just go ahead and bring you my conversation with the one and only Rhymefest.

(Interview Begins)

John Gardner: He’s already taught me so much, I’ve already gotten so much out of our time together that I am just too excited about this. Thank you so much for being here.

Rhymefest: Thank you for having me brother.

John Gardner: So we’re going to get into, I can already tell, a lot of topics. I’m going to start off with a short, but not simple question. We have listeners from all over the world. We have people in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong. A lot of people will obviously know you, your known around the world, but for the people that don’t or even for the ones that do, how would you describe who is Rhymefest?

Rhymefest: I believe that it’s dangerous for one to spend too much time self-describing oneself because then you run the risk of aggrandizing yourself or believing that you are something.

John Gardner: Wow!

Rhymefest: And we all believe we are something until one day it is proven how far we have to go. Right?

John Gardner: Yeah.

Rhymefest: So if I were to define me at just a base level, I am a student. I am curious. I am a brother. I am a community member. I strive to be like a tree. Because a tree hold all kinds of life, right? If you look at a tree it got bugs on it, it got birds that nest in it. It drops seeds, it may grow fruit, it may have sap or syrup. It has roots, and a community. A tree is like a grandfather. A tree takes care of everybody. A tree is just one of many.

A tree helps create oxygen, and takes in the toxins from people. I look at trees sometimes, especially we were just talking about the baobab tree. The baobab tree in Africa, East Africa, Madagascar. Those are were they say they bury the bones of the storytellers that they call the griots. I saw a giant tree in the mountains of Taiwan in this place called Alishan Forest, where you can walk in the tree and be like somebody can live in here. The tree let you see what it looks like from the inside out when you walk in these trees. 

John Gardner: Wow!

Rhymefest: So who is Rhymefest? I am a baby tree, striving to grow in this community and in this world, and put roots in it. I am a baby tree, I am striving to be giving and loving. I am striving to take care of things, and plant and drop seeds. You know what else a tree does real well? It listens. I’m striving to be like a tree. If that makes sense. 

John Gardner: Yeah that definitely makes sense. 

Rhymefest: For those who are like “but who are you?” There’ s always google. For the surface level answer you can go to google.

John Gardner: Yeah you’re easy to find out. For someone who is so open to listening you definitely put a lot out there that’s worth listening to. So your words definitely have impact and we’ve seen the ways you used them. You tell us that you are apart of a community; tell us what do you consider your community?

Rhymefest: Man, I will tell you a story. I remember I was in Ghana, and I asked one of the guys there ‘Yo do you think African are responsible for American slavery to a certain extent, do ya’ll think you owe the blacks of the Americas’? He was like what are you talking about? I said ‘cuz you know it could not have been done to us, if you guys weren’t co-conspirators in the slave trade, you sold your own people’.

Then he looked at me and said ‘ you know you sound like a colonist, your talking like a racist, your talking like the people you said did it to you’. Then he said let me ask you a question. Who did it to you? Who sold your people? Who sold your great great great great great grandfather? Who did it? He said oh you think it was Africans because just like the colonizers, you come in here an see one black face and you think we’re all the same. 

He said let me tell you, brother, there’s thousands of tribes in Africa. So was it the Igbo, Kikuyu, Mandigo, Maasai, he started going through it. He said because I can tell you, we’re as different from one another as an Irish is from an Italian, even though they are the same color. He said let me explain something to you brother. I am like he is changing my life right now from the arrogance of my ignorance. 

He said ‘your people in the Americas were taught, you’re white, you’re black, and you’re trying to fight for freedom from under a definition that someone else put on you of who you are. You think you’re a color. You don’t even know who your village is. You don’t even know what tribe you belong to. You don’t even know who did what to you, you’re just lost. 

(Laughing) He said I really wish our brothers and sisters who are melanated in America would stop talking about color all the time, because color is the confusion of you finding the truth of who you are. He said we view wealth as, how big is your village. Your wealth is according to the size of your village. Where is your village’? 

And that made me start to think about what you just asked about community. I got back home and I started going on this journey who is my village. Well you start with your family. Is my family my village? This house that your in right now, we did a documentary called “In My Father’s House”, this house belonged to my father who I never knew grew up in this house. My mom use to drive me pass when I was a kid, and she use to say your daddy use to live there, your daddy use to live there. This is my great grandparents house. When I got of age I purchased the house to have the inheritance that wasn’t giving to me by the father I never knew. 

When I got into this house I was like I got to find my father. When I found my father it turned out that he didn’t run out on me at all, he had fell in a hole. He was homeless for 30 years. I brought my father to this house, and we worked on this home, as we worked on our relationship. That’s why this home is special to me. 

Cuz it’s part of me bringing this village back together. When I found my father that I did not know and that I manifested this person, and I saw the things that I thought were flaws of me from him were really gifts that came from him I just didn’t know him to know that. My father and moms became friends again, and my mom who is a nurse started working with my father, and helped him stay out of being homeless. Then for the first time at 37, my dad and my mom would come to the house smiling ‘hey son’. 

That was the first time I ever felt that in my life. I already had children, and thought I knew what a family was, but never knew what a mom and dad smiling at you was. I knew I manifested that. At that time I was like I can do anything. So when I got back from Africa I started to really evaluate, what is village?, what is community? It’s not just blood, it’s not just color, as it was told to me. It’s values! Who do I share values with. That’s when were mentoring people through Donda’s House, Art Of Culture, and the foundation that my wife at the time and I were doing. People are attracted to how we are interacting in community. Now we been with these people for 10 years, 12 years, and they still come over. We’re family. 

You can grow villages based off people who share the same values with you. We don’t all have to think the same. Even some people of the same blood, may not be of your same village. They may not share the same values. 

Rhymefest: It does not mean we think alike or have the same religion, but values is something deeper. It’s what can we all agree on at the very least, and how to come together, and how to help each other at the very least. 

John Gardner: Yeah, isn’t this the time to talk about it. 

Rhymefest: Those are your values. 

John Gardner: We are so quick to find the smallest thing we can disagree about.

Rhymefest: Man we throw each other away bro. Everything is like block, block, block. We’ve been taught to block, throw away and isolate ourselves and we don’t even know that that’s the process that begins of your own decay!

John Gardner: Yeah man.

Rhymefest: So that’s what community is to me. It’s people with shared values to make a short story long. 

John Gardner: Yeah right on, so I want to get into all this, I mean there is so much there. You are a musician, you are a writer, you are a lot of things, you are a wordsmith. How did you get to that point where you are taking art publically. Could you take us back, kind of origin story. You touched on in some of it and it has to be a big part of your story, your father wasn’t in the picture from early, what was your first memories of music

Rhymefest: If you go anywhere where there are melanated people in the world, you’re going to find somebody beating the drum, you’re going to find somebody doing some poetry, you’re going to find somebody singing, somebody dancing. I feel like society likes to come up with this origin story when really it’s in the blood. It’s in the blood of the community. It’s in the culture. It’s like a Peruvian in the mountains, and you start asking him when did you start chewing on coca leaves, and he is like that’s just what we do, they grow and we know the earth and we know what we got to keep our blood right.

John Gardner: People get involved in music, very few get as far as you have. 

Rhymefest: But that’s only when you’re talking about industry. 

John Gardner: I would also say art form. Your level of ability is beyond the average person.

Rhymefest: I don’t know if it’s art. I know what my gift is, and my gift is perspective. I’m not that great of  musician, I can’t play an instrument. I’m not Prince, I’m not Kanye West. These guys have a different type of gift, but my gift of perspective allows me to write, it allows me to be creative, it allows me to have a conversation, know discernment, know who I’m talking to. I’m really in tune with my gift, and that gift allows a multitude of things to happen. I ran for office and did really good my first time running for office, and was like I don’t want to do that again. My gift of perspective allowed me to see community in a creative way, in a different way. I was like I know what’s missing, I see how to do this. I am a fast learner because I have a unique perspective. So I think sometimes we will look at what we say is our gift, as something we can monetize, and then we limit it to that. So it’s like man my gift is I am a rapper, well are you going to be rapping all your life? Or my gift is I am a writer. Do you know what writing is? Writing is spelling words, saying what you wrote is casting a spell. So if you can write, and you can speak, you can manifest. You’re going to limit it to that? You can be more creative. I always ask people, not what do you do for a living, I ask what’s your gift. Then I get off on telling people all the things that gift can do. So when you ask me what’s my origin story, my origin story is finding out what my gift is. What’s your gift?

John Gardner: I would say listening and a little bit of what you are saying I would say perspective and understanding.

Rhymefest: You know with listening you can be a diplomat. You can be a good father, you can be an excellent companion, you can be a great friend, you can be a president, you can be a philosopher, you can be so many great things through listening. Listening is as powerful as speaking. When you’re a good listener and then you speak, you don’t even have to say many words. 

John Gardner: Yeah that is powerful.

Rhymefest: Listening is super powerful. You know what listening also does. Listening makes people tell the truth.

John Gardner: yeah it’s true.

Rhymefest: Listening makes the truth come out, talking makes people lie. 

John Gardner: Yeah and some people don’t have people to listen. There whole life they have been talking and not to anybody. It can be impactful just to have somebody to listen. I’ve seen just what your listening does. I’ve seen through art of culture where you have young people come out and perform their writing, and for you to listen, and I thought you were talking about me when you described yourself. I haven’t seen it in person yet, I want to. You give one or two words of feedback and you can see it in their face the amount of impact it is having. Can you describe to the audience what do you do with Art of Culture. What do you do with this non profit. 

Rhymefest: Art of culture, it use to be Donda’s House, but now it’s Art of Culture, is where we develop the gifts of young people, whatever those gifts maybe. At first people looked at it like a music program like the kids come in and you’re going to give them opportunities that they would not have had. Even the young people get confused and think he is affiliated with Kanye and if I get with him then I am going to get famous. 

They are sadly mistaken and they would not have a good time with me, because it’s not about getting famous. It’s about getting in tuned. So if you ever see a video of me with young people you may see something where they may rhyme or do there thing and I am like yeah that’s not you. I don’t mind if it’s authentic but who are you. I ask them questions that make them have to question themselves. 

That is the beginning of our relationship and we grow together. If you’re not replacing yourself in this world, what is your purpose. If you’re not planting seeds and growing people why are you here? It doesn’t have to be with people. You could work with animals, or you could work with the sea. Grow something, do something to replenish something. Don’t just be here for you. 

John Gardner: Not all the taking all the time, how about a little giving.

Rhymefest: All the taking all the time. Be of service not self serving. 

John Gardner: When you hear the youth creating, when they first start creating, I have to imagine, how many times is what is coming out at the beginning is what they think might sell. What they think A&R reps might want. 

Rhymefest: What you find is that nobody really wants to be what they thought they wanted to be.  That is where you got to start, is this really where you want to be. I meet so many young people that we start off with rap and we end with them being like I really want to be a promoter. Will start off with singing and we will end with I really want to be a visual artist. So what we get caught up with because of social media is comparison. 

People are looking around at what they believe is successful, and looking for the quickest way to be what they perceive as successful based on comparison. What I try to teach is comparison is the killer of creativity. So when we stop comparing and when we really get down to what is your gift, and what do you want to do, and what are you good at, the truth is clear. It’s clear even to the person who is lying to themselves. That is what I do, I get the kids to stop lying to themselves. That’s my gift.

John Gardner: That’s great!

Rhymefest: With Children.

John Gardner: I see a lot of truth in comparison is a killer to creativity. I wonder where inspiration comes in on that, because to a point we see people exploring new areas because someone went before them. How important, and what role does being the leader have? What’s the difference between comparing and inspiration.

Rhymefest:  Inspiration is unexpected. You don’t go somewhere and say ‘I am going to get inspired’, and then it happens. You get inspired when you least expect it. 

John Gardner: Okay.

Rhymefest: When you are comparing you are killing the opportunity for inspiration to come to you, because your mind is locked into what you think something should be. Into your vision of it, and when it comes you may not even recognize it because it doesn’t fit the vision of the other thing you saw that you thought you really wanted. 

John Gardner: Yeah, Yeah.

Rhymefest: You convinced yourself of it. Inspiration is when you’re open. You just have experiences, and through having experiences you are like ‘Wow that made me think of this poem, I am going to write this down’. That’s inspiration. No one wanted inspiration when they got it. Nobody was looking for it. It came because they were open. Comparison locks you up, inspiration opens you up. 

John Gardner: Yeah I see that. So everything that you are right now with your artistic output I would say, because you can’t just say with your music because you’re fresh off your major Hollywood movie. The Public which came out earlier this year which is different than all the other artistic output you put out or is this connected to all the other things you do?

Rhymefest: I don’t label, we get caught up in careers and labels and what kind of art do you do.

John Gardner: Yeah.

Rhymefest: I made a decision a few years ago to live art. I might get up today and write a book. I might get up tomorrow and write a song. I am going to keep it under wraps, but right now I am in the works of creating a new instrument. I don’t even play instruments. I woke up with a new inspiration, like yo I know how to make a new instrument. I told my homie who is an inventor and told him the idea and he was like that’s brilliant. That is what I am on right now. What if one day we woke up and didn’t define ourselves on what others said we were good at, and defined ourselves beyond that. What if one day we woke up and stop thinking small. That’s where I am at. 

John Gardner: That’s exciting to see.

Rhymefest: I’ve seen that number one: there is nothing to be afraid of, number two: embrace struggle, stop running away from things that are painful, embrace it and it won’t be so painful. It’s not as painful as you thought in your mind, in fact in might free you. Number three: anything that you are worried about, do one thing toward it, and throw it out of your mind, you did what you could. Number four: be free. 

John Gardner: Can you give an example of something that was locking you up in your mind and you did something towards it. Were you able to let go, were you able to be free of it. 

Rhymefest: In the music industry, things have happened where I felt people have done me very wrong. Things have happened where I perceived I thought you were my brother, I thought we were friends. I’m not even talking about Kanye. I’m talking in general about other things. 

There have been people who are very well known and popular, and I helped, and contributed, and did all I could, and was betrayed because they were like I am in the machine, and I have to go where the machine is going bro, holla at you later you’re a nice guy. You will find that a lot of people who stop doing music, whether it’s Hip-Hop, Pop, Rock, you know you hear all these stories. A lot of people that stop doing a certain profession that is creative, stopped because they been burned. 

John Gardner: Wow.

Rhymefest: And they have been disenchanted .

John Gardner: Yeah Yeah.

Rhymefest: So to your question has there ever been anything I had to let go, I’ve helped young people through these organizations, and if one thing is happening in the media, where they are like ‘did Rhymefest…?’ I’ve seen the same young people that I brought in my home, and fed and loved on for free, get online and say he ain’t nothing, because it’s like now I can get attention. 

John Gardner: Yeah.

Rhymefest: I’ve seen these things happen. I’ve seen things in my life that the only way to move forward is to forgive myself and others, and hold myself accountable for what I didn’t think was my fault. If I don’t have any accountability in it, I can’t change it. If I were like how could do, why were y’all, I was giving love, and if I don’t see my role in my hurt then I can’t do anything to transform those vulnerabilities. Because everything that you hurt you, you were open and vulnerable to, and the only way it cannot hurt you again is for you to transform and move around your vulnerabilities. 

In order to do that for me, the secret is to take accountability and say okay you can’t give everybody stuff for free because then they don’t value it. Value as in sacrifice, and sacrifice is a form of love, and when you’re doing all this stuff and giving all this stuff why were you doing that. Were you doing it because you wanted love or were you really trying to show love through mutual reciprocation. 

When whoever whoever burns you over whatever whatever deal, what was your role in it? Did you not educate yourself enough to understand what you were dealing with. Did you meaning me, desire to be in the machine so bad that you gave to it your soul, are you hurt? You know when you start to see your role in it, then you start to say now what are you going to do. Are you going to get it and lay down, or are you going to get up and be creative.

John Gardner: A lot of people response is to run from. 

Rhymefest: Come on man. They run from it, and you know what ends up happening they end up running all their lives from different things like it. And they wonder why life is so whatever they think it is. I stood up to it, I stand up to it, and you know what I find in that? We have a view of what success is. Success is only the one who keeps getting up.  It ain’t the one who wins. There’s a difference between winners, quitters, and champions. Quitters are the first we talked about, ah man I’m hurt I’m gone.

John Gardner: It’s easy to see that.

Rhymefest: You can see a quitter. A winner is Floyd Mayweather, he’s never lost a fight, he is a winner, but why don’t we really view him as a champion?because he’s never got knock down, and got back up. He has to lose big, and he has to come back.  So who’s a champion? Muhammed Ali. Who’s a champion? Mike Tyson. Yeah Mike Tyson may not have came back and won his belt, but boy life knocked him around, and he got back up. If you listen to Mike Tyson now he sounds like Bruce Lee

He is a philosopher, he is a prophet, because the pain of life cracked open the shell of love. It was a hard shell with him, and when it cracked it open love came floating out of him. We look at him as a champion because he got knocked down and he got up. The one who keeps getting up is the champ. That’s all you got to do, is keep getting up. You woke up, get up!

John Gardner: I was going to say there is not a lot of people with life circumstances who will say I am always going to be a winner, I’ve got too many problems from your definition.

Rhymefest: The winner isn’t the really the winner. The winner is just shiny stuff. Sometimes we get so mad because we are not shiny stuff, and don’t even realize you can be better than that. You can be a champ. 

John Gardner: It’s a big thing. 

Rhymefest: A champ is a legend. A champ is a grandfather. A champ is a tree that is 100 years old in the forest. 

John Gardner: Well you mention before seeing tree in Africa, seeing trees in Taiwan, getting this inspiration from all over the world. 

Rhymefest: Trees in Peru. Trees, trees, trees, trees all over the world that are all different types of strength. I am going to show you something. 

John Gardner: Okay. What do we have here?

Rhymefest: This is my wand, and it is made of a tree called chanta ,and it’s one of the strongest trees in Peru. The feathers on here are eagle feathers. The eagle is the type of animal that when it hunts, it looks straight at what it wants, and it goes straight for it and gets it. You know what I am saying?

John Gardner: Yeah.

Rhymefest: This bird basically is a predator bird. It takes dead meat, and the natives believe that it takes it to the sun to be reborn. So this feather on this particular wand is for things that are dead that need to be resurrected. This feather is for, the eagle feather is for when I have my eye on something and we need to go get it. This is one of the best types of wood from Peru, from the Amazonian jungle. This is the sun and it represents the eight seasons of the sun all year. Right here you can’t see it, but etched in there is a tree, and the tree is everything that I talked to you about earlier. 

This of course is a quartz crystal. I hold this  when I am creating. If I am writing I will put it on the table, and be like this is my wand, you know what I am saying. So when we are talking about trees, I am so excited that somebody made this for me from one of the dopest trees in the world. I am going to show you something stay right there. 

John Gardner: Yeah.

Rhymefest: I showed you one or two rocks from my little rock collection. I go around the world and collect sticks. That wand you saw, I make wands.

John Garder: Do you?

Rhymefest: Yeah.  Oh wait let me get something. This is the first one I’ve ever made. 

John Gardner: Wow.

Rhymefest: I was like yo this is the first one I’ve ever made. But I wanted to make a wand from a tree from around my neighborhood. 

John Gardner: Okay.

Rhymefest: Because I believe, even though I collect sticks from all around the world and I make these wands. Like this one is from Japan, I got that from Japan. This one is in New Zealand, and this is like it’s going to be small but might I can put crystal all in thee. Then this one I got from a park called Hyde Park, wait this is not the one I got from Australia, where is this one from. I forgot where this one is from. 

John Gardner: You don’t engrave them, you memorize them.

Rhymefest: I memorize them, but as you can see my memory is bad. This one is from in front of my house. I looked at it as all earth is sacred and sometimes we value all these different places, and all these exotic stuff, and we don’t understand the sacredness of the land we live on. Earth is sacred all earth is sacred. Earth comes from a native. There was a native everywhere that you are, and so if we don’t see 79th street as important as the pyramids in Mexico then you are missing the point. 

John Gardner: Yeah.

Rhymefest: So I looked at this like this right here will protect my house as good as anything from any foreign land, because it’s from my house. You know what I am saying. Man, I am just showing you all my little wizard hobbies. 

John Gardner: Yeah, and I am loving it. I love what you said. It happens so many times with our own cities when half the people from Chicago are looking out and want to get it from somewhere else. They want to get to someone else’s local town, what they don’t want to get out of Chicago. 

Rhymefest: Always bro, always bro. Sometimes the grass is only greener somewhere else because we decide to be someone new when we get there. 

John Gardner: Yeah.

Rhymefest: I understand this too. The problem people have in the place they grew up in is familiarity. When people think they know you so well they don’t allow you to evolve. Sometimes with people it’s like they know the mistakes I made. They know how I use to look like when I was 10, and my voice was changing. They don’t believe me that I am who I say I am and I got to go somewhere where I can be who I am. So I understand if you come from a small town and you are gay, and you’re like I got to go to Atlanta where I can be who I am.

What I would say to that person is Pete Buttigieg stayed and he is running for president right now. It’s something about struggle, man, that if you stick it out they will all understand. I was just telling somebody today too that leadership and breaking cycles, and pioneering and building roads is not easy, and when you are somebody in a family who is trying to break a curse, a generational curse and a cycle, you’re always going to be looked at as the black sheep. You’re always going to be looked at like why they doing things like that, ‘you think you better than everybody?’ You are always going to be looked at like that when you are unique and special and trying to break a cycle. It’s okay. Life ain’t suppose to be easy for special people. 

Like I said I was a little boy and  my mama use to drive my down this road, and tell me oh your daddy use to live in that house. But I never once thought about who built the road. Nobody know the name of the person who build Stoney Island. Nobody knows the name, and they built Stoney Island. Like YO, but we use the road everyday. Nobody knows the name of the person who built the Dan Ryan. We call it the Dan Ryan after somebody who didn’t build it, but some of us our road builders, and it’s okay to be that, and it ain’t easy. They may not say your name, they may not even remember you, but you are making life easier for all of those who come after you. You are very special.

John Gardner: It goes back to about giving, not always taking. 

Rhymefest:  And that’s why I say I might be a pioneer, at other times I might be walking down somebody’s road that was built. But I am cognizant to be whatever I need to be whenever I need to be that and it’s okay. And if we can all get to that we can take ourselves out of it or we can put ourselves in it. That’s balance. 

John Gardner: Wow. That makes sense. It’s not easy to do, but it makes sense. 

Rhymefest: Why not?

John Gardner: For a lot of people judgment of others. For others maybe never being told they can do it. Hopefully for someone who may be hearing this today it may be an inspiration for them to. But for sure in Chicago I know you run across dozens of kids that have never been told that what they are doing is important. That they can do something important.  That they can be …

Rhymefest: Man they are told that all the time, man they just don’t believe that shit. You know what I am saying? We like to make up these sad ass stories. Bro, the problem is media. The problem is social media. The problem is the competing messages. The problem is of what you need to be. So somebody might say ‘Son, you’re important in this world and you can be more than what you’re being and you got to start by pulling up your pants, and going to college.’ 

Or ‘you got to start by doing your rap thing, why don’t you start selling it. You can be famous if you just get out these streets, and start raping. You can make a million dollars.’ You might as well tell them be in the streets, it’s the same message. You know the teachers say ‘they have the potential they just got to-’, so you know you have good people giving you conflicting messages all the time. You never know who you are. You are always told at some point of time ‘sell it, go to college and be this.’ Yeah what are you suppose to do with that. What is a kid suppose to do with that. They are trying. 

The kids didn’t come out of nowhere on a alien ship, they came from confused adults. So we always talking about helping the kids, who is going to help the parents? I sound like somebody grandfather ‘Who is going to help the parents? Instead of talking about the damn kids, how about the parents? They can’t read!’ So you know I just look at it like the families need help. 

We talk so much about the kids, because we are giving the kids so much power to run the house. We are giving the kids the power like this is the new generation, we got to invest in the new generation. Yes we do have to teach the children, but we have to make sure that what we are teaching them they don’t go home to something that unravels what they learned that day. So it’s like who is helping the family? 

The problem we are having in America is a holistic problem. It’s a health problem, it’s a stress problem. Adults are just as hooked as the kids are to unhealthy behaviors. I was 37 years old and did not know who I was, because I didn’t know my father, who was homeless. But that sent me on a journey. Fortunately enough, I was curious. That’s it bro. We have to stop knowing everything, and be curious again. That’s a sign of genius, curiosity. Our cups are too full. Does that make sense?

John Gardner: Yes it does. There is a lot of people who don’t. Instantly they associate not knowing something with a weakness. Where talking to you for a second you live life with the opposite principle. Where one of your greatest strengths is clearly your curiosity. All these things you brought in to show, clearly you are interested in a lot of things. 

Rhymefest: I am curious bro. I want people in my life who can teach me. That is why I look for gifts in people. What’s your gift, what’s your gift, what can I learn?

John Gardner: How many people when you ask that can answer quickly?

Rhymefest: Not many. And some people have to think about it, and that is good, because that means, I was just telling my friend today, I pray that I can be a giver. This is something you should pray for. To be a giver, you have to be given. That means the earth will grow for you- crops so you can feed others, and if you can get the earth to grow things for you, you ain’t got no problem. I pray to be a giver, so if I ask someone what is your gift and they say ‘hmm, I never thought about it like that,’ I say I pray I gave them something, to spark something. Even though I like to receive, when I can, lessons, I am very happy, it makes me very happy to give too.

John Gardner: I am sure. One thing I would like for you to give your audience and me. We spotlight different music from all over the world. We looked at Indian classical music, we looked at Afro Beat recently, all sorts of things the blues, how would you describe hip-hop to someone who has never heard of hip-hop. What would you describe to listen for in hip-hop the art of hip-hop.

Rhymefest: Hip Hop is the only language of the history of the world, that has gone global as fast as it has, and everybody speak the language. If you were to go to Iran right now, the average plumber on the street knows 19 century Hafez. They know- the average garbage person can recite poetry to you from Iran, but if you ask somebody in Jamaica about some 19 century Hafez, They’d be like ‘what did you say?’ So anyway if you ask both of them about Jay-Z they both know a Jay-Z verse. 

If you ask somebody in, where was I at, Mauritania in Sub-Saharan Africa and they are asking me about Kanye West. How did you know that, I don’t know your artist. Hip-hop is the only language that is spoken globally anywhere you go. Hip-hop tells you how yo dress, how to walk, I’ve gone to the mountains in Colombia in Palenque villages in Colombia and seen somebody rapping in different languages, and I would come up and rap in English and we knew exactly what each other was doing and saying. We were speaking that language. There is no other languages in the history of the world like that, the history of the world! How would I define hip hop? It is an alien way of communicating. With that said, you know, I speak a universal language. 

John Gardner: Now with that in mind-

Rhymefest: That’s why I can go anywhere.

John Gardner: What you just describe, universal language, that touches the most remote areas in the world, that can be the most amazing force for positive change. How were you seeing the effect of hip-hop in these places. 

Rhymefest: It is an amazing, forceful, positive change. Only in America do we sell it, and exploit, and do all that stuff with the music and the drum. That is a western, not only in America, in Europe too. It is a western thing to do that. We do that with a lot of stuff, we do that with food, let alone music right. I also have been places and seen people who believe that they could rap so powerfully that they can make the soldiers drop their guns. 

They use rap in sacred ways to effect spirits. I’ve seen people use raps in revolution. I’ve seen people use rap music when they were actively fighting revolutions in there countries. I was there to see them do it, to rap in a way where I am like ‘oh, I can feel that.’ You know what I am saying? In different languages. In the Wolof language. I’ve seen that. 

I have been to Croatia and they told me about the Yugoslavian war and the war they were going through in the 90’s, and how my homie told me we drove through Kosovo to get to Croatia. When we were driving through Kosovo I was like I’ve ain’t never seen white people so poor. Where like bomb out villages, and I was like this war was 20 years ago and they still ain’t built this back? 

They showed me how powerful was is, and I was like, wait, thought they won?. It shows you that war, see Amerians we fantasIze about war, because we look at it on T.V. and it look fun. If you ever go to a war torn country, bro, 20 years later they still ain’t build Kosovo back, and they won. You know what I am saying? It is what they call Pyrrhic victory. You won, but your nose got cut off, so did you really win. It was a won that wasn’t really a win.

 In these places, if you go to Croatia, who has healed from their civil war was splitting up. They said we got through it from Wu Tang Clan, we got through it from Mob Deep. Those are the songs we would play; ee would all chill and say we are in a war zone, but we are together so it’s all good. It was the style, the sound, that 90’s sound, there’s people over there that love that. 

But I will tell you something else places that have been in war, and are repairing from war are some of the most peaceful places you would ever want to be, because they know what war is. So they are like we don’t want no problems. In the Western world we are itching for a fight because we don’t know what war is. That’s why I look at America, and say okay we are about due for one. We are about due, it is about that time, because we forgot. 

That is why, with that being said, this is the time to come together as community, and as much as we can love each other let’s love each other right now. As much as we can be unified, and be family and be village, let’s be that right now. As tight as we can be, if we can get some land and grow food and have a farm, let’s do that right now. There is no better time than now for us to really come together, because there are people who are itching for a fight. We got to really, really, really, really, really show an example of love the best way we can so we can avoid war at all cost. 

John Gardner: It is a heavy truth. Well I wanted to ask if you allowed me a little more time, because I wanted to be respectful of your time. I got to look up what the Wolof language is. You are giving me a geography lesson with everything you say. What brings you around the world?

Rhymefest: –Falcon! It is a falcon wing, feather. Okay go ahead it’s burning my mind. 

John Gardner: What brings you around the world, what has been bringing you around the world lately?

Rhymefest: I did a spiritual retreat in Peru with Jazzy Jeff, we went to a lot of different countries. I am going on a spiritual retreat to Ghana in December. In the spring I am going through 5 countries in east africa, because I want to create a song in each country so I am going to Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda. I am going to create a song in each village, in each country, and that is going to be my new album you know. So you know I am living art. So I am blessed to be a giver. 

John Gardner: That is beautiful, and I am very much excited about that project.

Rhymefest: I am eating different plants, I am practicing in various religions. I am loving as hard as I can, being genuine and authentic as I possibly can, and I am coming home to Chicago, and I am amplifying it. 

John Gardner: Well we need it, so thank you. I am going to do a quick lightning round to wrap up. We covered a lot of territories.

Rhymefest: Let’s do it real quick.

John Gardner: Yeah, so it’s just going to be first thing off the top of your head. Real quick and easy, no time for follow ups. 

Rhymefest: Okay let’s see if it happens. 

John Gardner: So here is comes. What is your favorite food?

Rhymefest: There is no such things as favorites, don’t discriminate between foods.

John Gardner: Look at that. I will adjust for you. Of these different foods you’ve been eating what have you found the most beneficial to eat recently?

Rhymefest: Plants.

John Gardner: In general, alright. I know this is a big question, I shouldn’t ask you this on the lightning round, what’s been on your mind lately?

Rhymefest: Love.

John Gardner: What are your hobbies outside of -creating, I couldn’t say music because you are so multifaceted. I would say outside of creating what are your hobbies?

Rhymefest: Motorcycle riding, it’s ride outside, you found my key on the way in. 

John Gardner: Right on. That’s solid. I thought that I can keep them. That’s a nice ride. Last question, let me know if it’s not clear, it is kind of a complicated question. If you could ask the universe one question, and know the full answer and be able to act on that answer what would be your one question to the universe?

Rhymefest: What am I beyond flesh?

John Gardner: Alright we’ll leave it to you Che Smith, Che Rhymefest Smith to bring us to the metaphysical right there at the end. I can’t describe it, it’s been such a pleasure speaking with you man. Thank you so much. Hopefully not the last time. Take care. 

Rhymefest: Love Bro.

(Outro Music Plays)

John Gardner: His first word in this interview was love. His last word in this interview was love. His next words are gonna be about love. Love Lessons Part 1 coming soon from Rhymefest. So now look you’ve got, coming up now, the sneak peak World Premiere track OG Philosophy featuring Black Thought and Raheem DeVaughn from Rhymefest’s upcoming album Love Lessons Part 1. We’re bringing that to you right now. And next week, we’re bringing to you an interview with krar player Daniel Nebiat from Eritrea. He is a member of the Juno award-winning Okavango African Orchestra. Now, before I click play on this upcoming track, I have to ask you to review this podcast. Where else can you get an interview with Rhymefest after last week’s episode with Guzheng player from China, Wu Fei, followed by award-winning Eritrean krar player Daniel Nebiat? And if you like this kind of variety and this kind of world focus, I mean be honest, if you don’t know what the krar is, this is the spot. This is where we learn this kind of thing together, and we learn about these amazing artists from all over the world. So please rate and review this show. Your reviews really help people find this content. And that’s what we wanna do, meet more people like you. So telling a friend doesn’t hurt either but please, rate and review. And enjoy this upcoming sneak peek of OG Philosophy by Rhymefest. 

(Sneak Peak of OG Philosophy plays)

For the Extra Curious



Musical Mentions

00:12 John Gardner
00:22 Che “Rhymefest” Smith
00:33 World Music Foundation
03:17 Black Thought
03:18 Raheem DeVaughn
04:25 Australia
04:26 New Zealand
04:27 Singapore
04:28 Hong Kong
06:03 Baobab Tree
06:06 Africa
06:07 East Africa
06:08 Madagascar
06:13 Griot
06:19 Taiwan
06:21 Alishan Forest
08:09 Ghana
08:18 American Slavery
09:15 Igbo
09:16 Kikuyu
09:17 Mandingo
09:18 Maa’sai
11:01 In My Father’s House
13:57 Art of Culture
15:55 Drum
15:56 Poetry
15:58 Singing
16:18 Coca Leaves
16:53 Musician
15:54 Instrument
16:55 Prince
16:56 Kanye West
22:43 A&R
26:04 Hollywood
26:11The Public
29:06 Hip-Hop
29:10 Rock
33:33 Floyd Mayweather
33:50 Muhammed Ali
33:52 Mike Tyson
34:08 Bruce Lee
35:47 Peru
36:07 Champa
37:38 Amazonian Jungle
39:37 Japan
40:47 79th street
40:51 Mexian Pyramids
42:43 Atlanta
42:50 Pete Buttigieg
44:03 Stony Island
44:19 The Dan Ryan
51:20 Indian Classical Music
51:21 Afrobeat
51:22 Blues
51:50 Iran
51:52 19th Century Hafez
52:04 Jamaica
52:21 Jay Z
52:25 Verse
52:33 Mauritania
52:59 Colombia
53:00 Palenque village
54:58 Wolof
55:05 Croatia
55:08 Yugoslavian war
55:18 Kosovo
56:35 Wu Tang Clan
56:41 Mobb Deep
59:11 Jazzy Jeff
59:17 Ghana
59:29 Eritrea
59:30 Ethiopia
59:31 Uganda
59:32 Tanzania
59:33 Rwanda