Grammy-winning artist Che “Rhymefest” Smith didn’t have plans to become an actor, but that changed when Emilio Estevez’s mom saw the songwriter’s documentary about reconnecting with his long-lost father, who had been homeless for decades.
Estevez’s mom watched Rhymefest’s 2015 doc “In My Father’s House” around the time her son was working on “The Public,” a drama about homeless people who refuse to leave a Cincinnati public library during a brutal winter night.
“Emilio Estevez’s mom (said) … ‘This young guy from Chicago has to be in your movie.’ …And (Emilio) Facebook‘d me and said, ‘Would you like a role in a movie?'” Rhymefest recalled.
Rhymefest said the organic way he came to play a homeless man in the film taught him a valuable lesson about life: “Everybody’s out here chasing a career when we really need to chase our origin story. We really need to chase who we are.”
“The Public,” which hits U.S. theaters Friday, was directed and written by Estevez, who also stars in the film. It also features Alec Baldwin, Christian Slater, Jeffrey Wright, Gabrielle Union, Michael K. Williams and Taylor Schilling.
For Rhymefest, 41, “In My Father’s House” is the gift that keeps on giving: It also helped him form a relationship with clothing designer Kenneth Cole, who appreciated Rhymefest’s dedication to community work in Chicago. The two have worked together since.
“Not even the documentary, (but) mending my relationship with my father has done more for me than the record label has ever done, or a record deal,” he said. “It’s so interesting — we leave our villages and we leave our tribes to find success outside of our family only to come home.”
In an interview with The Associated Press, Rhymefest talked about mending his relationships with longtime friend Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West after feuding on Twitter, not mending anything with former collaborator Common regarding the best original song Oscar for “Glory” from “Selma,” and more.
AP: What were your thoughts when Emilio asked you to be in the movie?
Rhymefest: I had just co-written (Common and John Legend’s) “Glory.” I’d seen what happened to Common. I always looked at him act and I was like, “That’s interesting.” But I never said that I wanted to do that. When Emilio called and said, “Man, I got this part, Big George.” No.1, my grandfather was named George. No.2, my father was homeless. It was like the closing of a circle for me. I live creatively. I am not a rapper, I’m a creative. …Who am I to say no? … I went out to Hollywood last summer and I said, “OK, I’ma give this acting thing a try.” I really enjoyed doing this film. (Then) I went on a couple auditions and I said, “(Expletive) this. (Expletive) this.”
AP: You didn’t like Hollywood?
Rhymefest: (Expletive) them, bro. I’ma tell you why. …Something you know you can do, and you go into an audition, and they arbitrarily (say), “No. Yes. No. We already have the person, but we’re just doing this.” They break your self-esteem down, bro. … You just changed the person’s self-esteem about themselves and it wasn’t even based on, “Could you act or not? Were you the best person for the role?” It wasn’t even based on that.
AP: What did your dad think about your role in “The Public”?
Rhymefest: My dad actually came to visit me in Cincinnati as I was filming. He saw us all dressed up. He looked around and said, “These look like my friends” (laughs).
AP: You’ve won two Grammys for your songwriting — could you see yourself writing a film next?
Rhymefest: Yes. I even told Emilio — we became close — I said, “Bro, put me in your writing room. Put me in your music room. Put me in your acting room.” Anything creative, I want to be a part of it.
AP: You’re going to be on the big screen, but recently you were on the small screen on “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” Did you watch the episode?
Rhymefest: No. Somebody sent me a clip. Because of (the promotion) I’m doing with the film, I can’t even focus right now.
AP: Are you, Kim and Kanye all good now after your public feud ?
Rhymefest: Family goes through things. The important thing is that we gained an understanding and we bring our villages together. And I haven’t talked to Kim about where Kanye comes from, and the expectation, and the obligation of him, to that village. It ain’t about money, at least not with me. It’s about an example and building new generations of successors. It’s not about one person. If we’re not replacing ourselves, we haven’t done our job. … And I understand Kim’s point too. That’s her husband. You see somebody talking (bad) about your man, I get it. But when it’s his brother, it makes it kind of complicated …For Kanye and I to have a good friendship, you have to be good with a man’s wife. My wife (is) right there, you can’t fall out with my wife and we kick it, even if I love you. You and my wife gotta talk. So I get it. We all have to put our egos to the side for love.
AP: Have you and Kanye been working on music?
Rhymefest: We’re working on his music. It’s dope.
AP: You co-wrote Common and John Legend’s “Glory” from “Selma,” but you weren’t credited when the song won an Academy Award . I wonder had you heard anything from Common?
Rhymefest: Of course not. That’s Hollywood. No. Because it’s different for me and Kanye. Kanye is like, he’s emotional. He’s emotionally involved and … if he knows there’s hurt, he’s like, “Aight, let’s deal with this hurt. What’s going on?” Other people are protecting their interests. I get it, but if they only knew. If you only knew how much love could grow if you give me a little authenticity? But that’s fine. I’m doing films. I’ll see you in a minute. Who knows what the universe has in store.