Chicago rapper Che “Rhymefest” Smith co-wrote the Oscar-winning song “Glory” from Selma, has won Grammys and met with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss gun violence. But the recently released documentary In My Father’s House, directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg (Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work), eschews hip-hop hagiography and club-hopping excess to focus on the musician’s search for his homeless dad, who abandoned the family when Smith was a child.
The film, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival (as one of Rolling Stone‘s must-see movies) and is set for wider release later this year, is equal parts poignant, funny and heartbreaking, examining how hard it is for homeless adults to acclimate to society and the flip side of hip-hop success.
In this exclusive clip from the film, Smith catches his father up on his life and details his long-standing relationship with Kanye West, who he’s known since the two were teenagers.
“I met Kanye ’cause he came up to me and was like, ‘Yo, you’re one of the top rappers in the city,” Smith says in the clip. “The one thing you’re missing is tracks; you need beats and I got beats.”
The two did not get off to an auspicious start. “I tell my friends about him like, ‘There’s this real arrogant dude named Kanye and he’s crazy’ and Kanye heard that I was talking mess about him,” Smith says. “He called me up one day and said, ‘Yo I’m gonna pick you up. Let’s go out and kick it.’ We had the best time. . .When he dropped me off, he said, ‘We picked you up ’cause we were going to jump you and beat you up and leave you somewhere, but you’re actually a cool dude.’ We’ve been friends like brothers ever since.”
It was Smith who introduced West to the ARC Choir’s 1997 a cappella gospel song “Walk With Me,” the haunting, celebratory track that provided the vocal anchor for West’s 2004 hit “Jesus Walks.” “It really shook me up; brought me to tears,” Smith recalls in the clip. “I called up Kanye and said, ‘You gotta hear this song.’ He said, “Oh my God, we must write this immediately.'” The song, originally for Rhymefest’s debut album Blue Collar, would eventually land on West’s debut The College Dropout and earn a Grammy for Best Rap Song and Grammy nomination for Song of the Year.
West and Smith went on to create Donda’s House, the Chicago nonprofit charity that offers free music education and training to at-risk youth. In 2013, Smith spearheaded a 10-week course called “Got Bars?” that taught students aged 15 to 24 to write and record their own music alongside exercise and nutrition advice. The program is currently in its third year with Smith at the helm.
Rhymefest hasn’t released an album since 2010’s El Che, but the rapper is working on new material inspired, in part, by his recent reunion with his father. “Found You,” a new song featured in the film, received Best Original Song honorable mention at the Nashville Film Festival, with the film itself winning the Overall Audience Award and Audience Award – Documentary Feature category at the festival.
Fans interested in the documentary can visit its official website to sign up for updates and future screening locations.