Artist: Rhymefest

Representing: The Chi

Mixtape: Man in the Mirror

411: Look out, Tito. Rhymefest is trying to take your place in Michael Jackson's heart. Well, maybe that's an exaggeration, but no joke, Fest is paying a full blown-out tribute to the King of Pop. The two recently hooked up in Times Square at Madame Tussauds wax museum. OK, OK, it was just Mike's wax likeness (standing right next to a figure of another great M.J., Mike Jordan), but nobody tell Fest. He might be disappointed.

"Quit acting funny," Fest, standing next to the Jackson figure, warned us. "My man gets nervous when you start getting all crazy. My man does super kicks and all that."

Fest recently released a mixtape called Man in the Mirror, produced by Mark Ronson, in which he takes over some of the Gloved One's hits and puts a rap spin on them.

"We chose not to do the obvious," he explained. "We chose to do some of the things people may have missed, but they still know. ... You realize a lot of music the hip-hop forefathers got came from that type of funk movement, that type of pop movement, that type of R&B movement [Michael] chose to do. Michael Jackson was a revolutionary — even to this day, bro — that brought pop music with controversial topics, like 'Smooth Criminal,' which was about domestic abuse. Bringing social commentary to pop music. Not just 'Baby, baby, baby.' Then when you take it to little Mike, he had funk. He was taking up where James Brown left off."

In addition to music, Fest also has skits on the mixtape in which he and Mike interact. Don't be fooled, though. It really is M.J.'s voice, not Fest doing an impression. But if you believe they really were in the studio together, we have some swampland to sell you right outside of Nassau County.

In the coming months, Rhyme will be putting out his second official album, El Che. Che is actually his real name. He's named after Che Guevara.

"I wanted to make an album that was revolutionary, out of the norm," he recalled. "What people wasn't thinking about, but everybody felt. [Things] everybody said [to themselves] but nobody knew how to articulate in a rhythmic fashion."

There's a song called "Pulls Me Back" that will possibly be the first single and drop in April or May. Elsewhere on the LP, Jadakiss and Kanye West appear on "What Up." Phonte from Little Brother, DJ Toomp and No I.D. also contributed to the project. Fest is particular high on a record called "Stolen" (that's the No I.D. joint), which he describes as " 'Jesus Walks' on steroids." In it, he raps about what's going on in Africa with the Sierra Leone blood-diamond trade.

Joints To Check For:

"Man in the Mirror." "What's great about it is, remember when albums used to have title tracks? It wasn't just [an album] title with no song. We had a song, 'Man in the Mirror.' We did it into hip-hop. I'm proud of it," Rhyme boasted. "It was me releasing all my frustrations and insecurities and everything into the track. You get to know me as an artist and a man, and get to know Mike at the same time. We're reintroducing Mike to shorties who don't really know what his contribution is."

"Can't Make It." "The song is basically [saying that] when you're depending on the record labels — or any other entities other than what's inside of you — to put you on, you can't make it," he said. "I say if you keep selling dope on the block, you can't make it. With no education, you can't make it. It's hip-hop doing what hip-hop was intended to do: entertaining and informing."

"No Sunshine." "[The song] is really emotional, just letting it all out," Fest said. "[I'm] talking about going to the top, falling to the bottom, trying to get back to the top. This whole thing is Michael, but it ain't sweet. It's struggle, bro. It's pain, anger. It's angst. That's what it is. And it's self-reflection. You're looking at yourself to be the example."

Don't Sleep: Other Notable Selections This Week

» DJ Furious Styles - The Official PMP Mixtape
» Big Mike & Vinny Idol - Block Work
» Trap-A-Holics - Hell Up in Harlem: Jim Jones Vs Max B
» Trap-A-Holics & Sheek Louch - When Animals Attack
» Makin Moves, Fabolous & Cassidy - The Hustler and the Poster Child
» DJ Nice & Joe Budden - Lost Sessions

'Hood's Heavy Rotation: Bubbling Below The Radar

» Lil Wayne (featuring Cory Gunz) - "A Millie, Part 2"
» Mariah Carey (featuring The-Dream and Rick Ross) - "Touch My Body" remix
» Rakim (featuring M.O.P.) - "I'm Back"
» Akon (featuring Kardinal Offishall) - "Dangerous"
» Big Boi (featuring Andre 3000 and Raekwon) - "Royal Flush"
» Warren G - "Mr. President"

Fire Starter: The Cool Kids
Just what is it about the Cool Kids that makes the duo of Chuck and Mikey so frio? They give you a break. Guns, drugs and even chicks are pretty much on the backburner, in favor of subjects like bicycles. Good old-fashioned, non-threatening throwback fun. And while their appeal is way more hipster than 'hood, nobody can front on "Action Figures," which the Chicago duo recently put on their MySpace page.

But to hear them tell it, the newly posted track isn't a sign that their full-length debut is on the way any time soon. The track is actually old, they said, but the BMX bikers dusted it off to quench the thirst of their tight-jean-wearing set. "That's our plan, pretty much," Mikey said. "We're just gonna keep releasing songs whenever we feel it's time to release some songs. We're not gonna be on a real tight schedule thing."

The fellas did say that their LP, which they named When Fish Ride Bicycles, should see the light of day this year. The title is a nod to their anti-stance, like when people say, "When pigs fly." "Now pigs possibly could fly if they're thrown in the air," Chuck explained. "But fish are never riding bicycles." He added: "We don't like rules too much."

Celebrity Faves

Miami rap don Flo Rida has a thing for ladies, for sure. Just check the lyrics to his first two singles, "Low" and "Elevator." The track list for his recently released debut, Mail on Sunday, however, falls short when it comes to Flo actually featuring female artists on his songs. But the rapper, never one to miss an opportunity with the opposite sex, told us he has his eye on a few ladies, from Philadelphia to BK.

"Definitely, I'd probably like to do something with Lil' Kim; I've been a fan," he said during a trip to mtvU's spring break bash in Florida. "I've done something with Trina, [but] it's not on the album. Maybe Da Brat, Eve, something like that. I look forward to doing something with [all of] them."

The Streets Is Talking: News & Notes From The Underground
Right about now, Fabolous says he's "working hard and playing harder," but all that is about to be reversed. He's going in on his next LP and wants to have it out by August. He expects to drop a single or a warm-up record by May.

"I usually go around and just get with producers I feel I wanted to work with. This time I'm going off a theme," he said. Fab's concept for the project may sound a bit familiar. He's been inspired by a film.

"I'mma put a theme together and just go off of that theme," he said. "Sometimes producers get lost trying to figure out what they think is the best type of sh-- for Fab. [They say,] 'I got this commercial joint for you.' So what I'm doing now, I seen a movie I want to theme the album after. Even take certain lines, different scenes out of the movie and make music behind that. At the same time, I can have the producer check the movie out, and he'll have something he can take away from the movie and come back with some joints. I wanted to try that this time."

"What Jay-Z did [with 'American Gangster'] ... he took that Frank Lucas character and put it in the frame of his Jay character," Fab opined. "That's what I wanna do. I don't wanna say I that I'm actually the character, but take some of his scenarios or some things I went through and tell it in my tone."

Fab refused to disclose the movie he was patterning his album after, but he said it isn't too old, though it is classic. He doesn't anticipate too many cameos, and producers on Loso's radar include DJ Toomp, Kanye West, Just Blaze and Polow Da Don. With a structure in place, he feels he can complete his opus at a more expedient rate than usual.

"I think it will make me a little faster for some reason," he declared. "When I just go in with producer and just make music, I'm really going in. I don't know what they are gonna play me. I don't know what I'm gonna get off the beat. It's pretty much whatever comes up. But this time I watched the movie myself, wrote some things that stuck out in my head and tried to make songs off that. This time it should be easier. Well, not easier, but faster."

A single for Fab's yet-untitled (at least to us) album should arrive sometime in May. But for now, he's remixing himself into a frenzy. He just did new versions for Janet Jackson's "Feedback," Rocko's "Umma Do Me," Red Café's "Paper Touchin' " and Britney Spears' "Break the Ice."

"I didn't get to kick it with [Britney], but the people from her record label was on top of that," he said of the collaboration. "I don't know what condition Britney is in right now. Hopefully — more power to her — she'll get in a better space and position.

"Somebody needs to sit her down, let her know what the deal is," he added.

Loso may also be getting a call from Ne-Yo soon, to work on the singer's upcoming Year of the Gentleman. Fab disclosed to us that he would love to do more with his "Make Me Better" co-star.

"I been telling him we need to do the Best of Both Worlds for young, fly n---as," he said, referring to the 2004 Jay-Z/ R. Kelly tour that derailed over problems between the two artists. "I don't think [a clash of the egos] would happen with us. [We're] two good humble brothers. If we make some great music, people would love it and the demographic we would hit ... It would be great for us too. I think we can pull off a Best of Both Worlds."

Fab does have a myriad of other fellas to get in the studio with for an album. His crew, the Street Family, is making a compilation project, and singer Deemi is the newest member.

"Sometimes working alongside somebody else can help better their situation," he said of the addition. "[It'll] give her more looks, so when it's time for her to do her solo thing, that'll progress [her situation] too.

"We was gonna do it independent, but Def Jam has taken an interest in what I'm doing," he added, saying that the project will include Freck Billionaire, Red Café and Paul Cain. "I would love to keep the business all in the family. We got the avenue to do it independently or with Def Jam. We're weighing our options and seeing what the better choice is. I'mma let that one marinate."

Fab and DJ Drama's There Is No Competition installment of Gangsta Grillz is out now and Loso promised that "there will be some viral videos coming from that soon."

(Fabolous and DJ Drama told Mixtape Monday about their joint project months ago. Click the player to see it.) ...

Ice Cube and Nas haven't fully mapped out their alliance yet, but at least they've started working together. It wasn't too long ago that Cube told us he would be down to appear on Esco's Nigger, and evidently the lines of communication are open — in reverse, though. Cube actually procured a Nas verse for his upcoming Raw Footage project via the remix to "Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It." Scarface also appears.

"Scarface — me and him go way back," the Left Coast icon told us. "We been doing records together, it seems like, our whole career. So it's always good to do a record with him, Too Short or people that ... basically we grew up in the game together. So I was happy. Scarface is still one of the greatest lyricists we got out there and to have him come spit on the mic was dope."

And with Nas' new album getting pushed back, Cube is looking to see if the two outspoken icons can join forces to promote their projects together this summer.

"Nas, with the record that he's putting out this year, you know, it was kind of like it was the left and the right hand," Cube explained. "He's doing something on the East Coast that's a political kind of record; I'm doing something on the West Coast that's highly political, and it just seemed right. The remix is incredible, and I'm getting a good response, so I'm happy with that. Hopefully we can get it together. We been talking. It's really about scheduling and seeing when his record is gonna drop compared to mine." ...

"Fresh off the plane, into the Bent!" Is it safe to say that "Good Love" is probably going to be the biggest solo record Sheek Louch has ever done? We think so.

"It's different," he told us with a grin. "I'm doing what I do. I'm boppin' and it's a feel-good record. It's dope, man. Betty Wright [who is sampled on the song] is the truth. [Fans] from the midlife and on is gonna be like, 'Wow.' The young boys is gonna be like, 'He's killin' it because of what he's saying and how he's stopping, and the beat is pausing.' I'm not afraid to do that because [the people] know what we do in the streets already.

"I get the chicks. I get the chicks," he added. "I'm not saying [Jadakiss] and [Styles P.] don't, but I get some chicks. They on me, baby. Get off me, ladies! So I tried it and said, 'Let me see what's poppin'.' It worked. This 'Good Love' record, I've been getting calls everywhere saying this record is crazy from my thugs to the ladies. It's feeling great. From here to the U.K., they spinning it crazy."

Sheek's Silverback Gorilla was released last week, and he's already in the middle of putting together a star-studded remix to "Good Love" with some platinum artists. Elsewhere on the album, he brought his D-Block faction together with the Diplomats for the first time on "D-Block/Dipset."

"Styles brought [Jim Jones] in here in the studio and said, 'Listen to this.' At the time — this is how far back it goes — he brought him in to do the 'Kiss Your Ass Goodbye' remix, and he happened to get on this. He said, 'This is gonna be nuts.' That's how it happened. I had the hook I had already laid out. That's how it went down. We sat on it, and he brought one of his new guys in, which is Hell Rell. Kiss said, 'I'm getting on this.' "

If you ever are lucky enough to visit Mixtape Monday's secret hideout (we're actually located three blocks down from the Legion of Doom lair and two miles north of Parts Unknown), you'll hear us banging Silverback's "Don't Be Them." ...

Joe Budden checked in with us last week. He sent a page via BlackBerry, telling all the fans to check for his new single, "Touch & Go," and saying that there is deeper material coming soon.

" 'Touch & Go' is the first single 2 my Padded Room album coming this June," read his message. "The song is very Jersey, very dance, but not 2 be confused with anything gimmicky, or bubblegum. Quite the opposite, no matter what type of record I do, we will not dumb down lyrically. 'T & G' is the beginning of my gradual progression back 2 the mainstream world. It's 1 bullet from the clip, but not by any means the strongest 1. 2 all my Joe Budden loyalists, please be on the lookout 4 a record titled 'In My Sleep (Dreams),' which I feel rates with some of my best work 2 date. please believe me when I tell u, I got some sh-- on the way!!!!!!!!!!! U in that mood yet? Lol!" ...

Our deepest sympathies go out to the family and friends of Albany's David "DJ Wits" D'Agostino. He passed away last week. Wits, as some of you may know, was very popular in Upstate New York and was affectionately called the "Ray Charles of hip-hop." He was blind, but not only didn't he let his condition stop him from spinning records, he also was an avid golfer and skydiver. You'll be missed, homie.

For other artists featured in Mixtape Mondays, check out Mixtape Mondays Headlines.