Rhymefest: El Che

B+

Rhymefest

Album: El Che
Label: dN/Be

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Chicago rapper Rhymefest has an unfortunate way of turning fans into apologists. The missteps on Rhymefest’s El Che, the follow-up to 2006’s Blue Collar, his eagerly anticipated, poor-selling J Records debut, are legion. Like too many of his peers, Rhymefest seems to view the wearing of what he considers tight or effeminate clothing as a question of morality (or sexuality) instead of fashion. The gender politics on “Agony” are troubling, as are cornball references to The Office and Sarah Palin. And it’s easy to doubt the judgment of a man who opts for a Forrest Gump-themed chorus in 2010, as Fest does on “Chocolates.” (As in, “life is like a box of…”) Yet El Che shares many of the strengths of the rapper’s underrated debut. “Chicago” and “City Is Fallen” both bear the scars of years of personal and professional turmoil, but as with his kindred spirits, the industry survivors in Little Brother, who appear on two songs here, the overall tone is celebratory and joyous instead of bitter, as evidenced by feel-good tracks like “Celebration,” “Prosperity,” and “How High.” For all its missteps, El Che finds a satisfying combination of humor and heart, pop savvy and boom-bap, playfulness and ambition, strength and vulnerability.

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