TheGrio’s 100: Che ‘Rhymefest’ Smith, changing up the beat of Chicago poverty

TheGrio's 100 - A self-proclaimed "rap-tivist," this Grammy-winning writer and producer serves as an outspoken leader for Chicago's South Side...

A self-proclaimed “rap-tivist,” this Grammy-winning writer and producer serves as an outspoken leader for Chicago’s South Side, the community where he first developed his voice. His campaign for alderman of the 20th Ward echoes as a political sequel to the hit song he co-authored with Kanye West, “Jesus Walks;” the rapper kick-started his campaign by declaring that “the definition of revolution is love.”

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Che “Rhymefest” Smith is making history … by using his music-industry clout to draw awareness to poverty and economic struggles at home. As a recording artist, he testified in front of Congress for the Performance Rights Act about the rights artists have to receiving their royalties. In 2006, Smith met with British Prime Minister David Cameron to foster social activism in the hip-hop community in the U.S. and abroad.

Smith decided to move from testifying to policy-making and announced his candidacy for alderman of Chicago’s 20th Ward in October. He’s promised his new electorate in the neighborhood where he grew up, that he will encourage other successful artists and rappers to return to their home communities and open businesses to bring about social change.

What’s next for Che?

Smith forced a run-off election by finishing with 20 percent of the vote on February 22, and the first-time candidate continues campaigned just as you would expect — with music and politics. He hosted an open forum on education with Cornel West last January, and launched his campaign by co-headlining a fundraiser with fellow recording musician Lupe Fiasco that November.

In his own words …

“There is no shortage of people who are disappointed with their lives as they stand. But there is a shortage of rappers returning to their neighborhoods to help make them better,” said Smith on his blog. “It is time for hip-hop to be used as a tool, rather than a weapon.”

A little-known fact …

Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie were the first African-American Grammy winners, both honored twice in 1959, the award’s inaugural year.