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Rhymefest’s latest project “James & Nikki: A Conversation”


History isn’t just for school. It is also intended to be used and referenced in our daily lives. There are few artists who understand this as much as Che Armond Smith, aka Rhymefest. The beloved Chicago rapper, songwriter, producer and philanthropist may have made a name for himself with songs like the Grammy and Academy Award-winning “Jesus Walks” and “Glory,” but he may have made a name for himself with his latest project, “James & Nikki: A.” Conversation” explores the racial, social, and gender dynamics of Black men and women.

“The sign of intelligence is curiosity, and I was very curious,” he said.

The music project offers its creators and listeners the opportunity to discover how the problems of the past continue to be experienced today. If we want to break negative cycles, it is critical that we confront, rather than ignore, what amounts to interpersonal struggle and fighting. This music project aims to do just that. “James & Nikki: A Conversation” is out now via Golden State Entertainment.

Smith said he was inspired to create the work after watching a short Instagram clip of poet Nikki Giovanni and author James Baldwin chatting. Their speeches, delivered in 1971, were disturbing, poignant, and important because they discussed topics such as the concept of masculinity, the ubiquity of racism, and the author’s public purpose.

But most importantly, it also spoke to the unspoken dynamics of frustration and confusion among Black men and women.

(Giovanni said): “Why am I experiencing the worst? Why do you go to work and smile at them and come home and frown at me? Why are you yelling at me and talking nice to him? Smith remembered their dynamic.

On the heels of the civil rights movement in the ’50s and ’60s, Giovanni and Baldwin’s conversation highlighted the slightly different interests and specific struggles of Black men versus Black women in the new decade.

“They spoke in divine communication as student and teacher, as a man and woman, as poet to poet, as homosexual and bisexual,” Smith said. “And when I saw that conversation, I said, ‘People will post clips, but it will never be put into context unless we update it and bring it into context for what it means for our relationships today.’

Indeed, 50 years later, the disturbing truths of Giovanni and Baldwin’s conversation remain relevant. The experience of Black Americans is no longer what it once was, but the fraught state of our interpersonal relationships remains both public and private fodder. Seeking a starting point for his next work, Smith found a real opportunity to speak to contemporary concerns through the lessons of our cultural ancestors.

It also came at the right time in his own life, when he was trying to improve the dynamics in his home. Before and during the creation of this project, Smith gained a deeper understanding of his own mistakes and failures and how they could have a longer-lasting impact on his family.

“This moves me because I am currently embarking on a journey to discover how I can heal the most divine part of my manhood: my home,” Smith said. “It wasn’t until I started improving my home that my mind, life, and career started to feel better. Until I really started to figure out my personal relationships, which meant figuring out myself. Your home should be your battery charger. Your home should not be a boxing ring.”

“James & Nikki: A Conversation” was a moment in his own life, as well as for audiences around the world, where he worked on inner healing.

The project features six local hip hop women, including Brittney Carter, Helixx C. Armageddon, Teefa, Freddie Old Soul, EP Da Hellcat and C-Red. Reflecting on Baldwin and Giovanni’s conversation, Smith added: “This isn’t complete unless a woman stands up to everything I say.” “All of these songs are in Nicki’s spirit because most of the time the men are talking, but we don’t get the full picture because we’re not listening.” Producers of the project include Gensu Dean, Jon Jon Traxx and Rodney L. Gilcreast.

Smith hopes that in the world now, “James & Nikki: A Conversation” will reveal how we often turn our relationships into competition or revel in intentional misunderstandings. Part of this is comfort with toxicity, thinking that’s all we have to offer. But toxicity is neither noble nor should be normalized; By doing so, we attract more into our lives. Healing is a two-step process; It is a process that both men and women need for real change to occur.

“Sometimes we like to look at someone and point our finger at them, [but] this project is a finger pointing at me and at you,” Smith said. “What does forgiveness mean to you? In what situations can you forgive? How heavy can it be before you say you can’t do this? “We all have a threshold, and I pray that this project will make people question their own thresholds.”

Britt Julious is a freelance critic.


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