At the Exclusively Yours Auto Spa in Washington Park on the South Side, Che Smith announced this morning that he was in for a career change.
The rapper who performs as Rhymefest told his supporters that he would set down the mic and pick up the bullhorn, as he prepares to run for 20th Ward Alderman.
"The wheel doesn't have to be reinvented," Smith said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "It just has to be reinstated."
Promising to bring economic prosperity to the ward, which includes parts of Woodlawn, Englewood and Back of the Yards, Smith said he would use his hip-hop celebrity to encourage more development projects. He suggested that fellow Chicago rappers Common and Kanye West could be coaxed into helping the ward as well.
He gave few specific policy prescriptions, but one stance of his is well-known: he was a vocal supporter of the expansion of Wal-Mart into the South Side that passed the City Council earlier this year.
The Woodlawn native, who won a Grammy for co-writing "Jesus Walks" with Kanye West, will take on sitting alderman Willie B. Cochran, "a soft-spoken, bespectacled former police officer who owns a laundromat," as the Chicago News Cooperative's "Early and Often" blog described him.
That blog spoke with Cochran about his new challenger. His response:
"You have an intelligent voting public, and if they want to replace an educated public administrator with a rapper who refers to women as hos and bitches in his videos, who uses his performances to promote the use of weapons and gang activity, then the voting public has changed a lot," Cochran said. "I don't see him as being a real threat at all."
Rhymefest wouldn't speak directly to his opponent's record, as the Sun-Times reports:
Asked about taking on the incumbent, Ald. Willie Cochran, Smith said: "I'm taking on poverty. I'm taking on disenfranchisement. . . . There is an absence of transparency and an absence of leadership.''
Early in the week, Rhymefest had publicized this morning's announcement with a short internet video, which made his intention to run quite clear.
But astute observers might have seen this move in the cards even earlier. In August of this year, Smith appeared on "Chicago Tonight," the WTTW news program. He is the only rapper to have appeared on the show to date. In that interview with host Phil Ponce, 'Fest repeatedly talks about coming home to the community and taking personal responsibility as an artist and a leader. The interview touches on his background, his musical career, and his vision for Chicago.
Get to know Rhymefest on "Chicago Tonight":