New York

Live: Rappers Hate American Idol



Joe’s Pub
January 17

I would ask how you enjoyed the show last night, but I noticed that you fell asleep during the performance : ( –Rhymefest’s publicist

No disrespect to Rhymefest or Joe’s Pub or Theola or stand-up Steve who got us a booth or the headband hardbody who missed out on Fennessey-style riff and counter-riff. The show didn’t even start that late, and the pre-show digi-spinning–all gold and halycon, clearly trying to situate Rhymefest as some sort of street-not-street antidote to the crackrap epidemic, but who cares, I love Brand Nubian–might have been the best warm-up I’ve seen in forever. So no disrespect, no excuses, and in fairness, I did catch Fest’s last freestyle, the one when he talked about AIDS, and he seemed pretty worked up.

But it’s not like I don’t sorta dig this guy already. His name’s on “Jesus Walks,” but much like anyone else Kanye’s upped, Fest does rent out KW’s specific style of tell-it-like-it-is, a documentarian approach that abhors fantasy and fantasy rap, indulges it only to burst its bubble. He’d be another whiny, undie ll beaner if his voice didn’t sound like Common imitating Redman, which I say is a good thing.

What this means, we’re gonna get singles from Fest like “Dynomite,” an intentional misread of street rap that collapses person and persona, plays it like a strawman for (I guess) self-aggrandizement, switches the game from who’s harder to who’s realer. That actually strikes me every bit as “deceitful” as Jeezy’s babysoft hands, maybe even a little more so. There’s a commoner’s cred to myth-killing, and those big Just Blaze horns and self-righteous Gangstarrisms have their populist, anti-thought appeal too: “Blue collar rap, why call it that? / I know more real niggas that u-haul than haul crack.” I bet it’s called “Dynomite” because Fest’s “blowing up their spots” hardy fucking har.

Granted Rhymefest is more fun than your average hater, a good rapper for sure, and I do like “my style’s running to the toilet–you ain’t seen shit shit.” But it seems weird, shortsighted to posit an entire career on being reactive, deflationary, anti-creative; who’s the “coward” and “punk” and “chump” again? Regardless.

Rhymefest’s also on the record for hating club tracks, at least how many of them are out there. If the idea is he only respects people who are real, and the fact is that clubs are the least real thing ever, then I’m pretty amped to hear more Rhymefest club tracks, such as “Fever.” James Bond horn splashes hit like snipers on this horn-y salsa 110bpm grinder, his seduction lines are code for his anger: “I give them the plague…” He gives them the plague. And not “drop it like it’s hot,” it just is “hot as Hades,” and Fest turns that discomfort into a club diss: “You can never be as hot as me/ you can’t even afford a coat.” Please keep this guy locked in the club.

“At the end of the day we’re not teachers, we’re entertainers… I’m just documenting,” Fest told Baller Status. Really sums up why Kanye works on both “Touch the Sky” but then “Breathe In Breathe Out” while the Perceptionists work on “Black Dialogue” but not “Let’s Move”–Kanye/Fest et al. don’t balance contradictory messages and styles so much as accommodate both under the hood of observation. They straddle without chart aversion, dip into nerdy undie and downbeat soul but know when to come hard–drop insider rhymes like “Diplo, maybe you can tip mo'” and references to Hungry Hungry Hippos, but also get Cool & Dre to do some tracks for them. A syllable better than Game, Rhymefest, and possibly more.

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