Rhymefest is just a name, but Che is a calling. Though the Grammy Award-winner consciously chose his Rap alias, Rhymefest’s birth name – Che Smith – carries a burden considering that it was inspired by controversial revolutionary Che Guevara. On his deeply-delayed, highly-anctipated sophomore release, El Che, Mr. Smith does his best to live up to that weighty name and still keep fans tuned-in to the charismatic style that first attracted them to his debut.
Despite the title, El Che is as much “Dead Presidents” as it is dead prez because the content is not overtly political. In fact, Rhymefest has never been a “revolutionary” in the soapbox sense. He’s always represented the real life perspective: smart enough to speak on important issues but cool and flawed enough to not be above enjoyment. It’s clear throughout El Che that Rhymefest tries to represent his fun-loving nature and substantive message with equal importance.
‘Fest shows his balance as he goes Gump on “Chocolates,” an ode to the many flavors of women that he just can’t resist. And while the Windy City native has more than a few ditties aimed at the fairer sex (“Agony” and “Say Wassup”), he switches modes and trades perseverance stories with Little Brother on “How High.” Over a diverse set of electric guitars and prolonged keyboard notes, Rhymefest passionately raps, “Heart felt sting, push past the pain / But I still stay fly when it rains on my wings / Icarus, sky high, picture this / Look down, it’s all insignificant / Look up, ooh, it’s magnificence / It’s so intense I feel like my wings left prints on the cloud.”
While El Che has its faults, they are not completely flagrant fouls. The only complete misfires are “Agony” and “Last Night,” two songs that sound far too familiar and forgettable. But when Rhymefest delivers tracks that play to his strongpoints, the results are incredible. Production-duo Best Kept Secret helps inspire what’s arguably El Che‘s best song, “Talk My Shit.” Fused with a bit of Go-Go that leaves listeners little choice but to bounce, the song allows Rhymefest to addresses his middleground nature and say, “Fest, do some ignorant shit, I ain’t ignorant / I don’t like that nerd rap either, I’m not into it.”
The energetic “Give It To Me” then delivers insight into world affairs likely to appeal to both Che’s. Rhymefest’s voice booms over Scram Jones’ frenetic horn and vocal samples as he raps about Chicago’s large death toll and being in Mumbai during the 2008 terrorist attacks. The perils of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict then give way to the stress of relationships on “City Has Fallen.” Drums are largely absent during his verses, but ‘Fest handles the jazzy horns with equally smooth lyrics about needing “Red Cross for heart loss.” Yes, baby-mama drama is a well-traveled path; but “City” is more laid-back than the typically up-tempo songs on El Che, so the song’s relaxing nature helps balance the record’s vibe much like it wobbles between subjects.
Interludes with weak skits preface strong acapella verses that draw links between Rhymefest and Guevara. It’s an interesting move considering that El Che could prove polarizing, just like Guevara. Not everyone will appreciate the album’s love songs and others may reject the music-with-a-message mantra that it embraces. However, El Che is a solid album with its greatest strength being a balance of content and subject. Though many albums fail because artists try to make “something for everyone,” Rhymefest succeeds by releasing something everyone could benefit from hearing.