Move over, Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel, there's a new face in Chicago politics. And it's probably not who you'd expect.
Rapper [artist id="1727536"]Che "Rhymefest" Smith[/artist], the [artist id="1230523"]Kanye West[/artist] protégé whose collaboration on "Jesus Walks" earned the pair a Grammy in 2004, is knee-deep in a hotly contested race for the Chicago City Council. The artist received 20 percent of Tuesday's vote against incumbent Willie Cochran, forcing a runoff election for the alderman seat representing the city's 20th Ward.
A lifelong Chicago resident who grew up with West on the city's troubled South Side, 'Fest seems an unlikely political candidate, but the artist contends his musical career outside the political system makes him an ideal choice to be a councilman.
"We could talk on a hip-hop level and we can talk on a community level," Smith told MTV News. "On a hip-hop level, we rappers are always talking about 'hood credibility; we're more 'hood than the next artist is, but what are we really doing to make our community safer, to make people be able to have employment in our communities? We're living under tyrannical conditions. So as an artist, what can I do more than a song-and-dance for the community that has bought my records?"
The artist pointed to such factors as high unemployment and prison recidivism as key issues in his campaign, stating that his experience in the music industry has given him the skills necessary not only to help legislate, but to directly improve the lives of the citizens in his community.
"I think the great thing about the position I'm running for in city council is, unlike a president or a senator, we're on the ground," he said. "We're in the community. We get to [be] hands-on with the people every day. And I think that's where it starts. ... So what would I do as an advocate and legislator for the community? I'd begin with entrepreneur programs. As a brand -- Rhymefest -- and being in the industry, I can teach people how to market and promote and start their own businesses."
Like politicians who bring in celebrity donors to get out the vote, Smith has been able to rely on his own stable of high-profile names to help with his campaign. And he's issuing a call for other hip-hop notables to join his cause.
"[Kanye] helped with his generous donation," Smith said. "He helped to fund my whole field operation on Election Day. Lupe Fiasco helped to pay for hundreds of turkeys where we went door-to-door for Thanksgiving Day. Brother Ali stepped up. [But] Talib Kweli, Common: I need you. I'm asking for the so-called conscious, positive rappers to join me, to help us resurrect all our communities, starting with the 20th Ward in Chicago. I put down the mic to help save a community, and I need the positive rappers to come out too."
Rhymefest's burgeoning political career will face its strongest test when the runoff election is held April 5. But whatever happens, the artist will continue to push for change within his community. "One of the problems that's plaguing America is the individualism attitude," he said. "We really have to step up and be a village again."
What do you think of Rhymefest's political career? Let us know in the comments!