One would assume that high profile co-signs, along with an undeniable skill set would be more than enough to ensure safe passage on the path to stardom. Unfortunately, fame is a fickle beast and who you know or who you’re presumably better than carries little weight as to how far you’ll actually go. With the release and commercial disappointment of his debut Blue Collar, Chicago emcee Rhymefest knows this just as well as anyone. After time away to regroup, he’s ready to climb back up the mountain with his sophomore album El Che, seeking to achieve success on his own terms.
Between playing the role of a syndicate of change on the run from the law with “Intro The Agent” and aggressively trying to set himself apart from the glut of rappers vying for the limited spots available with “Talk My Shit,” Che immediately raises the expectations for this album to be that breakout opus everyone is clamoring for. But instead of showing why he’s a lyrical storm of scholarly debris, Rhymefest is content on continually reminding the listener that he’s better than most with tracks like “One Hand Push Up” and “Chicago.” On the former he states: “ I was bangin’ out rhymes/damn studio times up/Marshall popped in front of my eyes/what about my stuff?/Kanye blew up, while they called him an asshole/I was standin’ in the foxhole, catchin’ a shrapnel…” this disbelief that people he considers to have equal skill achieving more success coupled with the fact he thinks he shouldn’t have to continually prove his self goes a long way to holding him back.
When Rhymefest finally sets his sights on something other than his lack of success, the results are a mixed bag. On “Prosperity,” he calls out false prophets and with its blaring horns driving the backdrop, it’s one of the few times where rhymes, concept and production mesh. More often than not, ‘Fest’s attention is focused on the not-so-revolutionary topic of the fairer sex. “Say Wassup,” “Chocolates” and “Agony” are all unoriginal songs that teeter along the lines of mediocrity and typical. What makes them even more disappointing is the fact that Rhymefest boasts he’s independent so creating such drivel seems to be in vain.
It’s when he takes a step deeper than the superficial on “City is Falling” does El Che’s full potential come to fruition. On what may be the crown jewel of the album, Rhymefest details the struggles with his baby’s mother; bearing his soul over atmospheric production gives a brief glimpse into Che the person. Sadly moments like this are few and far between.
Between pandering to the ladies, the out of place interludes and occasional attempts to craft songs that reflect the album’s title, El Che fails to carve out a substantial identity. On one hand Rhymefest wants to say screw it and create art that’s true to self, but on the other palm, he still believes he’s one hit away from cracking through the glass ceiling. Straddling the fence only leaves Rymefest falling short on both sides.