10 Years Ago, Rhymefest Aimed His Lyrics At Gun Violence (Video)

Ten years ago last month, Chicago, Illinois’ songwriter and MC Rhymefest put out his debut album. Blue Collar featured some major players including Q-Tip, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Kanye West, with whom he had already achieved luster and acclaim. A few months prior to his LP’s release, he won the Best Rap Song award at the 47th Annual Grammys, thanks to his extensive contributions to West’s “Jesus Walks.” He went on to snag a Golden Globe and an Oscar in 2015 for his songwriting on “Glory,” from the Selma soundtrack.

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The artist born Che Smith would amass a bevy of top-notch producers for Blue Collar, which included not only West (who joined him for the single “Brand New”), but also Cool & Dre, Just Blaze, No I.D., and Mark Ronson. However with the LP Rhymefest didn’t just put out a series of notable Hip-Hop partnerships. With “Bullet,” he enlisted the help of Memphis, Tennessee’s Citizen Cope whose Bluesy sensibilities softly complemented ‘fest’s lyrical strength. But longtime fans of Citizen Cope were likely not surprised that he linked up with a Chi-town rapper, as much of his work flirts with the Hip-Hop aesthetic, and in 2011 he was featured on Pharoahe Monch’s W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) on “The Grand Illusion (Circa 1973).”

With 2006’s “Bullet,” Rhymefest and his Blues brother delivered a cautionary tale that fits far too well into America’s 2016 narrative. After a young man whose dreams of college and travel are shattered because he’s poor gets recruited into the army, he’s shipped off to Iraq and is killed in action. But that’s just the first verse, and by the time the song is complete it’s apparent that the bullet referenced in the song’s title represents not only the physical, but also the metaphoric. Verse two examines the intersection of poverty, drug addiction, and unprotected sex and to close the song, Smith raps the song’s most potent and personal verse. Dealing with the gun violence plaguing communities of color, the end of the song could very well describe Chicago today, where homicide rates are astronomical and people of color are dying for nothing.

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The Emile & Cochise-produced “Bullet” was never given the official music video treatment, but shortly after its release Rhymefest, Citizen Cope, and Mark Ronson performed the song live for AOL Music Sessions.

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In the years since releasing Blue Collar, Rhymefest dropped El Che in 2010 and added filmmaker to his resume, releasing a documentary about his relationship with his homeless dad called In My Father’s House. Earlier this year, he detailed plans for a third solo LP, which will reportedly be called Push the World.