In the past year, ’Fest has toured Europe with DJ Mark Ronson, opening up for Justin Timberlake. He’s appeared on national TV with Ronson. And he’s watched as his longtime friend and mentor, Kanye West, went from being an in-demand producer to having an album at No. 1 in Billboard.
Rhymefest is next.
But before he dominates the world completely, he’s partnered with Indianapolis-based Benchmark Records for a compilation album, The Blue Collar Collection. It includes a few new songs, some tracks from Raw Dawg, his 2002 album, and a hint of what the next ’Fest album will be. “A lot of people have heard songs and bits and pieces on mix tapes, but they haven’t heard the collection of songs from Rhymefest,” Rhymefest says. “They wanted to know when they could hear the entire collection, so they could get a better idea of who Rhymefest is.”
He’ll perform from the new album at the Vogue on Thursday night, and will open for West when he appears at the Murat Egyptian Room on April 15. ’Fest has been shuttling between Indy and New York, working on a new album. He says, “My major release that’s coming out through Mark Ronson will be all-new songs. It’s still being made. But the Blue Collar album has certain songs on it that will be on the major release album, so it will prepare you for the major release album.”
Since moving to Indianapolis in the late 1990s, ’Fest has used our city as a base for his own music and for promoting the music of his friends. “Although I am a Chicago-based MC, I do live in Indianapolis. I believe I do have my Naptown citizenship,” he says. “I’ve grinded here. I’ve battled in clubs with three people in them; I’ve battled in clubs with 300. I’ve won; I’ve lost. When I go out and make it, with me still living here and not moving away from here, my money is going to come back here. So why shouldn’t I work with Naptown? I’m working with Benchmark. I’m working with people like M-Eighty and others.”
Asked why he put out the compilation through Benchmark, he says, “It’s a better deal for me. I already have an underground name. I already have even a national name from some of the things I’ve done. It’s a better financial move to put out a CD on an independent label, rather than go through somebody who’ll put out a major release that I won’t make hardly anything off of it.”
He notes that many of his Indianapolis friends, such as Crush Entertainment’s Ron Miner and DJ Top Speed, have helped him along the way and are trusted advisors. “Ron mixed the CD and helped me create the order. Ron used to have a rap group with Tyler and Top Speed and Noah. And [Benchmark’s] Josh Baker used to have an internship with Surf Records and also with Crush Entertainment. But now, all of those figures who used to rap back in the day are now the business corporate heads of music in Indiana."
“Since they’ve been rappers and entertainers, they’re now set up for the capacities they’re in now. And I can utilize their business skills. I am very grateful for that.”
He loves the city and its people, but its basic conservative nature in music is frustrating, he says. “Sometimes people in Indianapolis think we’re Down South,” ’Fest says, referring to the current popular sound. “But we’re not Down South, we’re in the Midwest! The Midwest is the best of everything. Nelly, R. Kelly, Twista, Common, Rhymefest, Bone Thugs n Harmony. We have a variety of everything. It really frustrates me when people get caught in that Down South, Li’l Flip, Li’l John stuff. I’m not hating on that, that’s not what all there is to Indianapolis.”
He’s also frustrated at seeing some of the songs from Raw Dawg get airplay only when West released it on his own album. He uses the Rhymefest/West collaboration “Jesus Walks,” as an example. “I was going around this town performing ‘Jesus Walks’ two years ago,” he says. “I even gave it to a radio station. You think they played it? No. But when it came out on an international scale, then they go back and play it. But when I had it and was giving it to people, it was just another local guy with a song that sounds halfway good.”
While he appreciates the support the local rock scene has given him — and he it — he again sounds like Ali when he talks about it. “I have got a lot of love from the rock scene and I appreciate it. I do think there is a lot of work to be done, which is why we released the Blue Collar Collection. We want to see how far we can take it. “We want to see how much love people are willing to show. Is it going to be a pat on the shoulder, like, ‘That was good,’ or is it, ‘We have the next biggest star right here in our midst’? What will it be?”
Rhymefest: The Blue Collar Collection is available in stores now.