Cornel West stumps for Rhymefest: Will it resonate with 20th ward voters?

January 7, 2011

Hip-hopper Che "Rhymefest" Smith is getting a lot of outside support in his bid for 20th ward alderman.

P-funker George Clinton put on fundraising concert. Fellow hip-hopper Lupe Fiasco has given his support. And on Jan. 6 renowned public intellectual Cornel West came to Chicago to praise the Grammy-winning Smith.

There was a breakfast, lunch, education forum at Kennedy-King College and a private fundraiser at a Hyde Park home. The latter is where I caught up with West.

"It's very important to support our young leadership," West told me. "Chicago is on the cutting edge of movements - politically, musically and culturally." Smith and West first met when the rapper worked on the scholar's album in 2006.

"There are so few people or leaders who are not up for sale," West said. The advice he's given his mentee? "Put love at the center of it. Justice is what love looks like in public."

Political neophyte Smith is getting quite the buzz around Chicago, but as I looked around Thursday night's fundraiser, I wondered how many 20th ward constituents were in attendance. I wonder the same thing about other citywide events Smith has held.

I pulled Woodlawn native Smith aside to ask. He said he has to pull from everywhere to gain resources in order to promote his message. Smith argued that city council members need to pay attention to citywide issues and not just the ones in the ward.

Smith is trying to unseat first-term alderman Willie Cochran.