Rhymefest: The Man, The Manual
In an interview with HipHopDX, Rhymefest speaks on his latest mixtape The Manual, [click to listen] explains why J Records may not be his home for much longer, and how Twitter has united artists and their fans.
HipHopDX: Your mixtape The Manual has been on a number of blogs and websites this entire week. What has the feedback been for that so far?
Rhymefest: The feedback has been astronomically great. One of the best things about is that a lot of fans have written reviews for [it]. The fans have really shown their power by like saying Okay, if major radio aint gonna support Rhymefest or The Source or whatever major magazine. Vibe is not gonna put Rhymefest on their cover. Were going to cover him. Were gonna show that he has fans and that regardless of who pays for what. Cause you know a lot of times these labels they pay for their artists to get these features [and] inside these covers of these magazines and Im happy that I have a fan base thats like All you gotta do 'Fest, is put it out. You put it out. Let us do the rest. And so a lot of fans are writing blogs, reviewing it, and turning their friends onto it. Its just further showing that the playing field can be leveled through different medians - not just the BET and the mainstream radio.
DX: I saw your blog on HipHopGame the other day and you actually reviewed your own project. What was the motive behind that? Did you want to discover something by reviewing your own project?
Rhymefest: Well, I think by reviewing your own material its kind of like doing your work and then checking over it. You may discover some things you didnt discover the first time.
DX: Like proofreading?
Rhymefest: Its like proofreading. Exactly. Thats what that was. And I discovered some things about me as I was writing it. One of the things that I discovered is Im having more fun and its easier for me to do this and put it out quick. Man In The Mirror [click to read] was done in a month. The Manual was done in a month. And Im putting this stuff out thats better than peoples albums, in a month. And here I am on a major record label and cant get a record out in three years. You know what I mean? So its like I have to determine because what happens is the fans they blame you. They dont know about the red tape. They dont know that the label is saying, Oh, well go get a song with Kanye [West], or go do this and jump through that hoop. And then were gonna have a meeting about the meeting we had last week. And in the meantime the fans are saying Why isnt this nigga not putting out no records? Why aint he putting an album out? So now Im thinking about my career in a way like maybe I should just put out my music and not even sell it. [I can avoid] the How many did he sell the first week game. Maybe I should just give it to the people [and live off of] merchandise, touring, other revenues. Like Rhymefest music is not my only stream of revenue. But then my thing with that is if you give people music they tend to think its not as valuable as the one that other people bought. Theres a misconception. While The Manual is better than any album out right now, thats just come out, its kinda like the value of it is depreciated because its given away.
DX: At the end of the review, you wrote on your blog you actually gave yourself four and a half stars. Why not go for the full five? What would have made this a five star mixtape in your opinion?
Rhymefest: Because I am the biggest critic of me. I try to be. I think we all should be. I think our biggest competition shouldnt be Jay-Z [click to read], it should be you. Im trying to beat myself. I think Man In The Mirror, honestly, was better than The Manual. I think it had more personality in it. I think The Manual, one thing that I [think] it didnt have...it didnt have any girl songs. I was being rebellious and stubborn - like, I aint making no damn girl songs. I think I was mad at the radio or something. Cause everybody was pandering. When you listen to the radio, its like, If girls cant dance to it its not nothing. If the hos dont like it, fuck it. And then sometimes I feel like what happened to men wanting to be men? What happened to men being like women are going to admire me because Im a man. I stand this way. I work. Look at my fingernails baby, look at the dirt under it. I roll with men, they respect me. Im a general. Do everybody gotta be like, Girl get ya ass over here and shake it right here like this oooh. My thing is its not that I cant do that, havent done it, or wont do it. Its that just for this I wanted it to be a man. I wanted it to respect like Hip Hop like from where it comes from for me and how it grooms me as a man. So when you hear the song ["A Deal's A Deal"] with CL Smooth [click to read], when I say, A deals a deal. A mans a man. Your words your word and you gonna know where I stand. Like that meant something to me. Like Im a stand up guy. This is what Im on. Like everything aint for shaking your ass. Somethings are for [just] listening and entertainment and understanding. So thats what this is for. But I think that even with that big, elaborate thing that I said I still took some points away because its like you cant do all that and relate to the ladies, homie? Then why not? I look at it from all aspects or Ill say, You got 20 joints on there. You telling me you cant do three where its like some Bohemian, Philadelphia thing where you still doing Hip Hop? You know what I mean? Like the song ["You Got Me"] that Erykah Badu and The Roots [click to read] did? Thats like [an] old school joint. You telling me you cant do that? You know, just a little softer homie. Just a little bit? And so Im like, Okay, okay.
DX: So The Manual has some production by Scram Jones. What made you choose Scram for this particular project?
Rhymefest: [Man In The Mirror] was mainly [produced by] Mark Ronson. This one [is] with Scram Jones. I believe every project that I do should have continuity to it. Should have a sound to it. And I think Scram Jones represented the sound of that golden age Hip Hop, from all the tracks that Ive heard from him [and] from what hes done on my album, El Che. He has the golden age sound, but its updated for today. So when I said Okay, I want to do this type of CD, Scram Jones was the perfect person with the chemistry for that. Like when you hear all those scratches on there and the [imitates scratching noise] Rhymefest its like Man, he knows how to do that. Now if I would have went to Nottz, Nottz is like this [ill tone] producer. You go to Nottz for that west coast, down south type boom boom. So when I do that, I go to Nottz, but if Im doing that golden era Hip Hop Im going to Scram. And me and Scram, we have a chemistry.
Im not even gonna lie; I was a bigot. I was a bigot. I felt as though Man white producers their drums might be a little off because they may not have the rhythm of a [DJ Premier], Kanye, Just Blaze. They may not have that melody, that feel, that soulfulness." But I found through making this album, my best music has come from the white producers. They have the passion. The guy that did Bullet on Blue Collar [click to read], a white guy named Emile did that song. Emile has done stuff for like Lloyd Banks [click to read], Eminem, and 50 [Cent] [click to read]. Scram Jones has done stuff for 50 and Mariah Carey, Raekwon [click to read], Ghostface [click to read], all types of people. And what I find is what its really about in Hip Hop is your passion. And passion comes in all colors.
DX: On The Manual you have a song with Queen Latifah called Going In, and shes really rapping on that track. How did you get her do that? Because I havent heard her rap like that in a minute.
Rhymefest: Shes snapping aint she? Snapping so hard that when it was my turn to write my rap...you've gotta understand, if you feel like some of these people killed me on some of these songs just because, I aint even gonna lie I was intimidated. Its like imagine meeting somebody you grew up [on] that formed who you are. Their words formed my personality. Their words formed my passion. Her words gave my passion for Hip Hop definition. You know what I mean? And to have the opportunity and you rarely hear male rappers say this about women let alone female rappers. Queen Latifah [click to read] helped form me as a man. Her words gave my style definition. When you hear, If you may think you Hip Hop in my raps, where do you think that comes from? That comes from her example. Her being one of the examples and the example she set. Now I met Queen Latifah because my friend Malik Yusef had invited me to this BET taping that was called A Sit Down With The Queen with Ananda Lewis and Queen Latifah. I was like, Oh, were going back stage? He was like, No, the taping. Were just gonna sit in the audience. I was like, Man I dont wanna sit in the audience for BET. They dont even let me on Rap City, nigga. You want me to go sit in the fuckin audience and watch Queen Latifah get interviewed? She dope and all, I love her and everything but man I will get there and its gonna look like Jet magazine and theres gonna be all types of Black Enterprise ass niggas there. Hes like, Nah. Come on, come on. So I went. Turns out he got a call and hes like, Aw, I cant even go in. I gotta go take this appointment somewhere else. So now Im going to BET, sitting in the audience by myself, watching Ananda Lewis interview Queen Latifah. But boy, it wasnt nothing but beautiful black women trying to get empowered and listening to words of wisdom. I was the only male there.
DX: I know you were happy.
Rhymefest: I was happy, but then I felt like, Man, dont nobody know who I am. Here I am sitting around all these women. Cause you know I got a little ego. I be wanting people to know its Rhymefest. [Laughs] They went to a commercial break. Queen Latifah looked down in the audience and she starts winking. Waving her and winking. And Im like, Who the fuck is she winking at? Aint nothing but women around here. So then shes like, Hey Rhymefest. [Reciting] I dont like it unless its brand new. Brand new. And all the women start looking at me like, Is she talking to that nigga? Who is you? And then I pointed to myself like, Me? You know me? Shes like, Yeah. Come here, come here. Im like, Excuse me, excuse me, going around people. And shes just like, Stay here. Ive been looking for you. I need to holler at you as soon as this is done. And I was like, Get the fuck out of here. I start texting all my niggas, Queen Latifah, she loves me nigga. She loves me. And after the show she was telling me how much she like my music and she was like, Im getting ready to go to the studio later in the week. Cause she still records for fun or whatever. She was like, Ima hit the studio. Why dont you come listen to some of my stuff? Tell me what you think. Im like Word? Next thing I know me and Queen Latifah [are] at the studio. So do you think that Im gonna let the opportunity pass before Im like, By the way, Ive got this beat and you know if youre not doing anything. She sat right down. Got to it. Went in there and when she started saying, With the heart of a champion I got that understanding. Haters say that she crampin. I been pampered and pampered. Oooh-weee! And from then on, like, thats my girl.
DX: You mentioned her [Queen Latifah] as an example of someone you look up to. Who are some other artists who have set examples for you as well?
Rhymefest: Its funny for me cause its like I dont have the same old list. You know what I mean? Not that these artists are any less of great, but I just dont have that list of Rakim [click to read], Nas, Jay-Z. Even though theyre legends. In top five, 10 whatever. My list is a little more awkward. My list would include Biz Markie [click to read], [Ol' Dirty Bastard]. People who werent afraid to be themselves. Like [with] Biz Markie and O.D.B., we learned the humor is okay in Hip Hop. You dont have to take yourself so serious all the time. Humor is a great part of storytelling. Humor and sometimes talking about your frailties is a great part of being entertaining and being a man. Being human is good in music. I would say the gangsterism of Scarface [click to read]. Like for him to say things on [The Geto Boys'] My Mind Is Playing Tricks On Me like Day by day it's more impossible to cope. I feel like I'm the one that's doing dope. Thats not like, Yo, I just sold a [kilo] for half a mil. Oh shit nigga look how great this is. Selling drugs feels so good. Its like hes telling you the real life. Scarface, Biz Markie, I would say the storytelling genius of Slick Rick. Slick Rick is the greatest storyteller of all time. A lot of Rhymefest songs, you think you're gonna hear this battle rapper, but you turn it on, you may be surprised to just hear these great narratives. And thats that Slick Rick you know. You go to somebody like Kool G Rap [click to read], who just has ferocious metaphors and lyrics. Its people like that that I would say had the biggest influences on me. The Queen Latifahs, the Slick Ricks, and the Scarfaces. And that eclectic mix makes me as complicated as I am as an artist.
DX: Who are some current artists that you think are similar to the artists that you just named as far as them not being afraid to be who they are and tell you how life really is?
Rhymefest: Im gonna do the diss. Ill do the dis then Ill do the good side. The diss is most artists currently came up when rap went so mainstream that the only three choices that they could take to be successful were 2Pac, Biggie, and Jay-Z. And a lot of [fans] just really [chose] Jay-Z. Now they're choosing Kanye, which is ironic cause in a way I feel like y'all taking me. Imagine if you took a thousand sheets of paper and you just hit copy. Some of em are gonna come out dark. Some of em are gonna come out real light. Some of em are gonna come out like not legible. Thats what these artists are to me. A thousand copies of Jay-Z - in different tones. They may have different aspects of Jay-Z or different aspects of Kanye. Some of them are like Well, Im just gonna sing like Kanye, or Im just gonna rap like Kanye, or Im just gonna be colorful and arrogant like Kanye, even though I cant sing or rap. So you see different tones of the same original two copies. But, theres hope. Like [Barack] Obama said, theres hope. B.o.B. [click to read] is dope. I love B.o.B. I think Wale [click to read] is very promising. And I would not count out people who I feel like are still doing it. Andre  [click to read] is definitely original. And its like hes one of them people anything he say just be good. Hes so good at rapping. He dont even have to rap no more. I feel like Devin The Dude [click to view] is so underrated. He is so good. And its like everybody knows about Devin The Dude, but dont nobody want to talk about it cause dont nobody else really know. I wish people would stop doing that though cause like he is so dope. Devin The Dude, I wrote that dude a MySpace one time. I mightve freaked him out. I was like, Man, I really mess with your music. He was like, What up man? I mess with you too. Then I was like, Oh God, he answered me back. Before I got a deal, Devin The Dudes music really helped me through a lot of things in my life. I just wrote him back and told him, Man, Im just gonna write you as a fan bro. Your music got me through hard times in my life and I dont know how you feel about what your situation is. This is what it is. This is how I feel about you as an artist and what I see in you as a person. And I dont really know how rappers feel about other rappers coming at them like that, but he never wrote me back after that. It was on MySpace. He probably didnt even think it was me. I really admire him. And I really admire the fact that hes so consistent and so talented
DX: On the mixtape you also have the diss track Super Sonic (Chucky Cheese). Why did you decide to make that track instead of just letting the issues between you and Charles Hamilton just die out?
Rhymefest: Because that was always a part of the CD. Just like I released Exodus and I released the track Coolness. If you look at it [J.J. Fad's] Supersonic, was '80s, '90s. It was part of the whole schematics of what I was doing and just because it came out early it was part of promoting The Manual. Im done with dude. I want him to go on and have a whatever kind of productive career he can have. Hopefully, there was a lesson learned. Not just by him, but it was a lesson learned by all. Like this wasnt just about me dissing a person. This was about me giving an example of Hip Hop - like an example of these are the rules of engagement. You know what I mean? If this happens, this will happen. This is an example to all. What was interesting though there was another debate that came out of me dissing him that I never expected that to me was more important than whatever I felt about him. You know by me being friends with Kanye and me being friends with Mark Ronson, they have a large amount of fans that are gay, who are homosexual. And by them knowing them or liking and buying their music they know who Rhymefest is. And when they heard a lot of references in The Coolness and in Supersonic about gay and faggot and homosexual. How I felt was that they cant believe that they [Kanye West, Mark Ronson] could think so forwardly and progressively and you think like how you think. And I got inundated with e-mails and criticisms from the gay community. And I took time and I called the ones that sent their numbers. I called them. We sat and spoke. I gave them my view. They gave me their view. I told them why I said what I said. How I felt about the lifestyle and it was just very good conversation. And understanding that sparked from that. And I blogged about that on HipHopGame.
DX: Whats going on with the second album El Che? Is it still being pushed back?
Rhymefest: Girl, its been pushed so far back. Its been pushed off the radar. Its kinda like maybe I talk too much. Maybe I say too much. Maybe a lot of things. Maybe things Im saying and the music Im making is just not mainstream enough for a major label. Maybe, maybe not. Maybe its just the motherfucker dont know how to make you into a figurine cause everybody gotta be an action figure like 50. 50 is the action figure. Jay-Z is the don. [Young] Jeezy [click to read] is the drug dealer. Kanye is the model, the eclectic one. Rhymefest is a person. How do we sell a person? How do we sell an intellectual? How do we sell a lover? How do we sell a revolutionary? How do we sell all of this in one? So it becomes work. And who wants to do that? No one likes work and I dont make it easy. But I work with them.
Its not that Im just giving you work and Im being a jackass of an artist. Im like, Maybe we can do this, or Maybe we can do that. Ive jumped through all the hoops and then eventually I was like, Okay its been three years guys, Im done. Its like either were gonna roll or were not. The album is done. I done made over 150 songs. What we gonna do? Everything is in limbo right now. Im not dissing the label. J Records has to do whats best for them business wise. Now J Records has been successful with a lot of R&B projects. And maybe Hip Hop or the type of Hip Hop I do is something they dont understand or they dont know how to do. Like its not Alicia Keys. Its not Mario [click to read]. Its not Maroon 5. This is something totally different. And so maybe its time for me to search for a home that knows how to do that. You know what I mean. So as far as El Che is concerned, El Che is complete. However, Im trying to find the best venue for it to come through. Everything will work out.
DX: In your blog you mentioned that you might be too complex for some listeners. Do you feel like fans of Hip Hop and music in general are afraid of complexity?
Rhymefest: I dont think its just Hip Hop. I think its Americans. I dont think you have to go further than the TV shows that we watch and that we talk about. I did a thing on Twitter where I do a versus game everyday at six oclock. I was in the Los Angeles Times' "Top 25 Celebrity Twitters." My thing is I did one where I said, Lets compare books. And I started off [with Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince] vs. [Sun Tzu's] The Art Of War. And people knew Machiavelli Aw man, Machiavelli. 28 Laws Of Power. The Art Of War. Like everything that everybody talks about in movies. Then I got a little deeper. The Secret vs. The Art Of Seduction. Maya Angelous Heart Of A Woman vs. Why The Caged Bird Sings. And guess what? People stopped answering. Now Twitter has a more intelligent crowd than the usual mainstream crowd - than the MySpace crowd I would say. Twitter has more intelligence. And yo people started hitting me up like, 'Fest we never read those books. We dont know that. And it brings me back to something Maya Angelou said when she said, Its a shame that the people I fight for and write for will probably never read any of my work. And thats why the blog the week before last was You wanna hide something from a nigga put it in a book. Its not just books, but its like when youre talking about an artist like Rhymefest, Im not a club rapper per se. I dont fit into a category of even when you say conscious rapper. Im not a stereotypical conscious rapper. I dont wear head-wraps and Im not Five Percent - not that I have anything against the stuff. Im not against things like some people are. You gotta roll with me or not roll with me. Its just creativity. What do you think? Do you think fans, people, Americans are dumbed down?
DX: I do. I think that people are just lazy these days. I think that people are too lazy to read a book, too lazy to listen to lyrics. No one wants to put effort into anything.
Rhymefest: Everything is brought to us. Its also electronics. Its also the technology. Music is just so accessible. Its like you can put 80,000 songs on an iPod. People are so lazy. Im even into it. Ill catch myself downloading a song, listening to it for 10 seconds, and deleting it. You dont even know what its about. Nothing can be appreciated anymore because its just too much stuff. Its a philosophy called "The Used Car Lot Sale," that everything must go. The only thing you like then is what a reliable source tells you is good so now you can listen to the whole thing. And usually that reliable source comes from a major media outlet. So if Vh1 plays it a lot and is like, This is the hot shit, people are gonna be like, Aye, you seen the hot shit? Its just too much stuff for you to search on your own. Its too hard to form your own opinion. Too much thought goes in it. Tell me whats good and Ill learn to like it. Thats the motto of America.
DX: How do you think rap has changed or evolved since your days at Scribble Jam in 97 and 03? What do you think has changed in Hip Hop?
Rhymefest: I think its gotten better. Out of all the complaints...Ive sat here and complained to you about everybody and everything, but at the end of the day, the beats have gotten better. The tracks have gotten better. Theres more opportunity for more artists to be heard. Its not just like if you dont get played on these radio stations and if you dont get played on by this TV show then you wont get heard. Back in the '90s, it was only one or two video shows. Now its like you dont even need video shows. People put your stuff on YouTube. You can get on MySpace. You can get on Twitter. All you gotta do is be exciting enough to build something and make people listen to you. Get a good team. WorldStarHipHop, VladTV. Theres more opportunities to be heard. I just think that artists have to stop doing music for the wrong reasons - if youre doing this for money. If youre doing this because, Yo, I just wanna do this to support my family and make a lot of money and blah, blah, blah, nigga, you're asking for failure. Because whats gonna happen is even if you get that money you aint gonna know what to do with it. You have done no preparation. You gotta be prepared to get money. I tried to tell Wale that. I try to tell new artists. I be like, Man, are you prepared to have money? Do you know what to do with money? Motherfuckers look at me like, Yeah, nigga. Spend it. Im like, "Alright. If you think thats all you do with money you gonna be hurting. Everybody gonna be hurting." So its like my thing is I think Rap has changed because Rap has given more opportunities and more of a leveled playing field for artists to be heard. I think the music has actually gotten better. I think its more open. I think it was an epic battle waged between the heavens and the [hells] when 50 and Kanye went at each other. That was the epic of "is it okay to be yourself versus you gotta be gangster?" And I think [the fact that] its okay to be yourself opened up and now were in the age of the awkward rapper. Which is gonna morph into something else. But the awkward rapper, and this is no diss, like the Charles Hamiltons [click to read] and The Cool Kids and whoever else. The hipster. And like somethings a little off about them, but I like them. The nerd is cute. The Asher Roth [click to read]. And so, you know. And at this time, Rap is redefining itself and thats okay. Thats great cause what that does is it gives it new life. Im just glad niggas aint just rapping about they rims no more. Oh God. How many different ways can we say the same thang. So how has rap changed since 2003? Cause that was when my Scribble Jam was. Since 2003, which is a short time, rap has extended its reach to accepting people from Europe coming over here. Doing they thang. Rap music has embraced white people. Liked it used to be [that] white people could only buy my shit. Now white people can sell shit on the block too.