12.28: Rhymefest- Man In The Mirror

It's been awhile since the hip hop world has heard from Chicago emcee Rhymefest, who released his debut album, Blue Collar, in July of 2006. I remember the first time I heard his first single, "Brand New (feat. Kanye West)", and getting really excited about the future of this rugged and raw rapper. Then his next single, "Dynomite (Going Postal)" got pressed on vinyl and when I started playing it for my friends, they insisted it be featured on their soccer warm-up tape I was putting together.

But the funny thing was, the more and more I heard from and learned about Rhymefest, (minor detail: he wrote Jesus Walks for 'Ye), the farther and farther the release date for Blue Collar got pushed back. So when it was finally in stores, I was dissatisfied. Why did he make "Devil's Pie" an album track when it sounded much better on the mixtape with D'Angelo's REAL vocals? I mean the Citizen Cope track was cool and all, but shouldn't that have been on a Citizen Cope B-Side or something? 

Look, I'm not hating. I still think Fest is even MORE than a legitimate rapper. If you don't believe me, peep this. Or this. (In case you don't like following blind links, that's some of his new shit) I'm really hoping Fest comes with something fresh for his sophomore effort, El Che, in 08. In the meantime, he and Mark Ronson thought they'd give you something to blast in the ride, bump on the speakers, for FREE.

Man in the Mirror is a mixtape that boasts Michael Jackson samples, and is rightfully-dubbed a "dedication album." Not only do we get vintage, up-lifting beats from producers like Best Kept Secret (B.K.S.) and Emile, but Rhymefest (and Mark) have a little fun with some MJ audio excerpts from some classic interviews. 

The mixtape begins with a skit, "The Cipher," as Fest begins "conversing" with Mike and each of them freestyle on top of dead air with a little beat-boxing. The actual music begins with "Can't Make It," an exciting narrative in Fest's new revolutionary tone, produced by B.K.S. (A quick note: B.K.S. is a production team from the DC Area that have produced for Funkadelic Freestyles alum Wale. Wale, of course, is on the same label as Fest, Allido Records, run by who else? Mark Ronson) 

That leads us into the next track, "Get Up (feat. Wale)," the first collaboration between the new label-mates. Both emcees tear through the track with ease, though Wale nearly steals the track with this line: "If they don't listen to you, they like Tribe to Lupe/Wale, touche." Let's hope for some new material from this duo again soon. 

Another high-profile rapper, a "little" bigger than Wale, shows up for one of my favorite samples on the entire mixtape, "Never Can Say Goodbye (feat. Talib Kweli). Kweli's got a standard guest verse here, nothing to see. Fest comes from all angles on this one, with a few notes on the police, smoking, and the past and present. A very solid effort form both emcees, and I could see this on the radio. (Okay, maybe just Pete Rosenberg late at night).

"No Sunshine" samples the Jackson 5's version of "Ain't No Sunshine," and you can thank Blue Collar-producer Emile for this one. It's a darker track, and people often miss Rhymefest when he gets serious, perhaps because of his boisterous tone of voice. But he's right on point with this one, and he reminds me how great of a storyteller he really is.

There a quite a few tracks I only have a few words to comment on. "Foolin' Around" is a pretty basic track from Mark Ronson, but really fails to capture my attention. "Quiet Storm" shows up on "Set The Mood," for no other reason than to prep "Breakadawn," a superb track featuring Allido labelmate Daniel Merriweather and alpha. "Higher" has Rhymefest playing the hype-man, as he rocks over a screaming audience from the Jackson 5 days. Two songs, "All That I've Got Is You" and "Coolie High" simply allow Fest to add a few extra verses to previously-sampled MJ hip hop cuts. 

Overall, the skits really made the mixtape. I don't think I've EVER said that when it comes to an album or a mixtape, but when you hear Rhymefest with Michael, it really sounds as though Fest is there right alongside the king of pop music. It's especially eerie on "Family Reunion" when the Jackson brothers let loose and you hear Fest singing along with them, as if he's really sitting next to Tito, Randy, and Michael at the piano. The funniest skit, hands down, has to be "Mark vs. Mike." You'll see why with the link below. 

Man In The Mirror is an excellent prelude to El Che, clearly proving Rhymefest is not out the rap game after a less-than-glorious debut release. It's evident he worships Michael Jackson, but at the same time, his charisma is versatile enough so as that  he gets to poke fun at his mysterious idol. And when he does poke fun, he's very funny. But what I'm looking for on El Che is a re-energized Rhymefest, and I think with Man In The Mirror, he's really starting to get his swagger back. 

Mark Ronson presents...Rhymefest: MAN IN THE MIRROR B+

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