Che Smith, aka Rhymefest, emphatically wants to distance himself from gangsta rap and take the genre to a more positive plane. On his debut album Blue Collar, he delivers a set of rhymes that don't stray far from the conventions of current rap, but attempts it from a working class perspective on those themes.
The inhabitants of Blue Collar are inner city working stiffs, by and large, who punch a clock by day and pick up a forty rather than a gat at the end of the workday. They are the people who live in direct opposition to the gangstas — wannabe and otherwise — that much of rap glamorizes.
'Fest makes this theme blatantly clear in "Dynomite (Going Postal)," a blistering indictment of gangsta trappings bereft of street cred. He's not preachy here — he attacks at gut level, using every profanity at his disposal to drive his point home. Since he is a veteran of the dub wars (allegedly beating Eminem in a duel), this should come as no surprise. The language of the streets is the language in which 'Fest is most well-versed. And as such, some audiences might find much of the lyrical content offensive. Even on "Sister," purportedly sympathizing with female victims of physical abuse, the narrator admits his initial motive to talking to the woman was the possibility of a sexual encounter. It nonetheless becomes a poignant vignette about the perils of the ghetto. While not exactly cocktail conversation, its lyrical tone does ring true on a sub-literate level.
What Blue Collar does bring to the table that's refreshing is a musical backdrop that is neither West Coast nor East Coast, but distinctly Midwestern — "Chi-Coast," maybe. There is an unmistakable Chicago rhythm permeating the entire album, ranging from steel factory beats to smoky blues riffs to back alley shout outs. A lot of this is no doubt due to No-ID's production, but the greater credit has to go to 'Fest — he may be blue collar, but he has the blue collar popped up throughout the album. Whether you agree with his stance is irrelevant — the man raps with conviction. He did, after all, co-write boyhood friend Kanye West's hit "Jesus Walks." Kanye and 'Fest rhyme together here, most notably on the romp "Brand New."