Turning the spotlight on musicians making a commercial breakthrough. --
With tracks that sizzle, groove and run the gamut in samples from the Strokes to Harry Nilsson, Rhymefest crafts a rap that mixes sermon with sensuality and more body-bumping than the standard four-on-the-floor shoutfest. The Chicago rapper's style is energetic but not necessarily hard-core. This debut album trumpets high production values, and guests include Kanye West (with whom he wrote "Jesus Walks") and Citizen Cope. Malik Yusef and Q-Tip provide memorable spoken interludes.
Rhymefest was born Che Smith on Chicago's South Side, became a father at age 21 and moved with his wife and son to Indianapolis. He worked low-paying jobs to support his wife and child, building experience that would inform much of the material on "Blue Collar." In 2003, he signed with DJ Mark Ronson's Allido Records. His work has since been featured in various films -- "The Rundown," "Take the Lead" and "Big Momma's House 2" -- but his greatest coup was collaborating with West on "Jesus Walks," which earned them a Grammy in 2005.
Kanye West, Common, Robert Johnson and Nina Simone
Rhymefest defeated Eminem in a freestyle face-off at Scribble Jam '97, winning the title in 2003.