A bad musical influence? Dave's ally (and other rappers)

US hip-hop artist Rhymefest found common ground with the Tory leader when they met yesterday to discuss the genre's violent lyrics. Terry Kirby scrutinises the boys of rap
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Indy Politics


Despite being an up-and-coming rapper, nobody had heard of Rhymefest until his meeting yesterday with David Cameron. Rhymefest, real name Che Smith, had asked for the meeting "over a cup of tea" following the Conservative leader's criticism of DJs for playing songs with violent lyrics. The meeting does not appear to have been simply a publicity stunt, since the rapper, from Chicago, is a member of Kanye West's circle, who come from less dysfunctional backgrounds than many rappers. Rhymefest has publicly criticised other rappers for portraying their background as one of exclusively drugs and violence, rather than everyday hard work. A university drop out, Rhymefest is also a former broadcasting student and nursery school teacher, who became known for his "freestyle battle rapping" style before singing with CBS subsidiary Allido records in 2003; he decided against signing with West's label, concerned about their friendship. Yet to register a major hit.

HATES: Gangsta rap: "There are enough people trying to be gangsters without me going that route... What we need in hip-hop right now are rappers who are both truthful and entertaining."

HITS: Blue Collar, his debut album, reached 61 in the US charts. Also won Grammy for co-writing "Jesus Walks" with West.

ENEMIES: Not recorded, but Gordon Brown might have preferred to deny David Cameron another photo-opportunity.

LYRICS: From "Brand New", 2006

Yo wait - I don't want it unless it's (brand new)

You might see me in my (brand new) whip

With my (brand new) bitch, pumpin' my (brand new) shit

You don't like it - get off my (brand new) dick

50 Cent

Curtis James Jackson III was born in Queens, New York, in 1975, his mother was murdered in a drugs deal and he grew up immersed in the drugs trade and several time in a "boot camp" for drugs offences. First performed under the name Boo Boo, which brought him to the attention of Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC and then Colombia records, for whom he recorded his debut single, "How to Rob". Linked up with Eminem and rap svengali Dr Dre, leading to international stardom and notoriety. His debut album with them, Get Rich Or Die Tryin' sold 872,000 copies, going platinum by its second week. Shot nine times in 2002 - and survived and currently on probation after attacking audience member who threw a bottle at him in May 2004.

HATES: In one of the most notorious feuds in hip hop, 50 Cent fell out with rival rapper Ja Rule over his alleged theft of Ja Rule's jewellery. 50 Cent meanwhile has accused his rival of, 'singing, not rapping.'

HITS: The album Get Rich or Die Tryin' got to No 2 in the UK. "In Da Club" from that album reached No 3 in the UK and no.1 in the USA.

ENEMIES: 50 Cent also has feuds with: Nas, Joe Budden, Fat Joe, Shyne, Jadakiss and D-Block, Eminem's former deejay Green Lantern, The Game, L'il Kim. But he has resolved feuds with: Sean "P Diddy" Combs, Jay Z. Has also criticised R&B singer R Kelly over his forthcoming child porn trial.

LYRICS: from "P.I.M.P"

I don't know what you heard about me,

But a bitch can't get a dollar out of me,

No Cadillac, no perms you can't see,

That I'm a motherfucking P-I-M-P

Mos Def

Dante Smith, whose moniker is an abbreviation of "most definitely" was born in 1973, in Brooklyn, New York. He has arguably found almost as much fame as an actor as a rapper, most notably with parts in Monsters Ball, Ghosts, The Italian Job and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. He is part of the anti-gangsta rap movement of more socially aware artists and a convert to Islam, references to which occur in his work. His song "The Rape Over", on the 2004 album, The New Danger, was accused of anti-Zionism and of being homophobic. "Bin Laden" claimed George Bush was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. New album True Magic out in December.

HATES: George Bush, over 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

HITS: "The New Danger" reached number 5 in 2004. Black on Both Sides reached 25 in 1999.

ENEMIES: Only one recorded feud, with Lyor Cohen, then head of rival label, The Island Def Jam Music Group, and called "the tall Israeli" in "The Rape Over".

LYRICS: From "The Rape Over":

Some tall Israeli is runnin' this rap shit,

We poke out our asses for a chance to cash in.

Cocaine, is runnin' this rap shit...

Quasi-homosexuals is runnin' this rap shit.

Jay Z

Part of the rap aristocracy of multi-talented artists, producers and entrepreneurs, that also includes Dr Dre and P Diddy, Jay Z was born Shawn Corey Carter in Brooklyn in 1969. A ghetto kid with a drug dealing background, he now has an estimated worth of $350m and is the head Def Jam and Roc-a-Fella records, which he created in the mid-1990s. Has his own clothing line. And his girlfriend is Beyonce Knowles.

Critics praised his ability to rap at speed, creating verse after verse in his head. Major commercial success came in 1999 with the Life and Times of S Carter. Despite announcing his retirement at his peak in 2003, his comeback album, Kingdom Come, is due out next month.

HATES: Hip hop "street" style; credited with moving rappers away from hoodies and trainers to buttoned-down shirts and smart suits.

HITS: "The Gift" & "The Curse" reached No4 in US, No 2 in UK in 2003. In 2004. "Numb/Encore" (with Linkin Park) reached No 20 in US, No 14 in UK.

ENEMIES: Accused of stabbing a record company executive. At a concert a year ago, announced "The United Nations of this rap shit" and declared an end to feuds with rappers.

LYRICS: From "03 Bonnie and Clyde":

But today, I got my thoroughest girl wit me,

I'm mashin the gas, she's grabbin the wheel, it's true to the heart

She rides with me - the new Bobby and Whitney

Kanye West

The most middle-class rapper, West, 29, was raised in Chicago to a journalist father and academic mother - who is now his manager.

West dropped out of Chicago State University to pursue his musical career as a producer, firstly with local artists, moving onto major stars like Alicia Keys, Jay-Z and Janet Jackson.

After narrowly surviving a car crash in 2002, he recorded his first single, with his jaw wired up, and became a born-again Christian.

Winner of six Grammys, he was named 'Best International Male' at the 2006 Brit Awards in London and supported the Rolling Stones on tour. Due to launch own clothing line.

HATES Has accused American politicians of "...[riding] home in their Benzes and Bentley's while poor Africans starve." Criticised George Bush over Hurricane Katrina.

HITS Second album, Late Registration, reached number one in US last August; Single, Touch The Sky, reached number six in the UK charts earlier this year. In 2004 Slow Jamz, from the album, The College Dropout, was no.1 in the US and no.3 in the UK.

ENEMIES Without naming names, has accused hip-hop artists of homophobia.

LYRICS from Gold Digger (ft. Jamie Foxx):

Now I ain't sayin' she a gold digger,

But she ain't messin' wit no broke niggers

Ghostface Killah

Aka Ghostface, aka Tony Starks, aka Iron Man, was born Dennis Coles, in 1970 in, Staten Island, New York. He is one of the most successful members of the hugely influential hip-hop collective, Wu-Tang Clan, all of whom have had successful solo careers. Ghost-face - the name comes from wearing a mask early on in his career - became well-known for both his uptempo, seemingly indecipherable stream-of-consciousness raps and, later in his career, for his emotionally charged delivery. Talks about cocaine use on album Fishscale, a name for the drug but now claims to have given up drugs for God. In the 1990s faced firearms possession charges and served time in prison for robbery.

HATES: Global warming. Has agreed to contribute tracks to a compilation CD in support of environmental causes in the US.

HITS: In 2006 "Back Like That (ft Ne-Yo)" from the albumFishscale reached No 2 in US and No 46 in UK. In 2004 "Tush" (ft Missy Elliott) reached No 34 in the UK.

ENEMIES: Reports of fight with fellow rapper Mase outside a club in New York, rumours of a dispute with 50Cent.

LYRICS: From "Back like That":

In and out of jail,

he a snail,

he wasn't wilding on bids,

In the summertime, I broke his jaw,

had to do it, to him,

Quick, old fashion, in the back of the mall.


This white, blue-collar boy from a dysfunctional Detroit background has sold 65 million records. Born Marshall Mathers III (from which he took his stage name), he was a sensation with his first hit "My Name is ..." and achieved fame in the UK with the epic "Stan", reaching No1 in December 2001. Has been accused of promoting violence, particularly against women. Spells of drug addiction and charged with assault and firearms possession. Winner of nine Grammies.

HATES His mother, Debbie, sued for defamation after he made accusations in his songs about her drug addiction.

HITS: In November 2002, Eminem had the No1 album (8 Mile Soundtrack), movie (8 Mile), and song ("Lose Yourself") all at the same time in the US, first artist to do so. Other hits: "Like Toy Soldiers", No1 in UK, No34 in US, 2004; "The Real Slim Shady" No1 in UK, No4 in US, 2000; "Just Lose It", No1 in UK, No6 in US, 2004; "Lose Yourself", No1 in UK and US, 2002.

ENEMIES: Accused of pulling a gun on the group Insane Clown Posse after he saw his wife kissing an associate of the group.

LYRICS: From "Like Toy Soldiers":

There used to be a time when you could just say a rhyme

And wouldn't have to worry about one of your people dyin'

But now it's elevated cuz once you put someone's kids in it

The shit gets escalated, it ain't just words no more is it?


Born Lonnie Rashid Lynn in Chicago in 1972 and formerly known as Common Sense, he is best known for belonging to the sober and sensible - well almost - wing of rappers, with lyrics that focus on love and spirituality. Like his mentor and fellow Chicagoan Kanye West, he is a university drop-out. Moved from underground star to mainstream success with his major-label and critically acclaimed debut Like Water for Chocolate, and his latest album Be, nominated for several Grammies and part produced by West, to whose label he is now signed.

HATES: Meat eaters; supporter of militant animals rights group Peta.

HITS: "Go! (ft John Mayer & Kanye West" went to No 79 in the US and UK last year. In 1999 "1-9-9-9" (ft Sadat X & Talib Kweli) went to No 4 in the rap chart from the album Soundbombing, Vol. 2

ENEMIES: British mixed-race artists like Yungun, Doc Brown and Rising Son accused Common of racism last year after he was quoted as saying: "I oppose dreadlocked black men getting into mixed relations because it defeats the purpose of the locks".

LYRICS: From "1-9-9-9":

Check it, it's like I'm fightin for freedom, writin for freedom;

These record company niggas I don't like when I see em;

My ancestors, when I'm writin I see em, and talk wit em;

Hopin in the promise land I can walk wit em