Music figures only tangentially in Sweet Micky for President, about The Fugees’ Pras getting into behind-the-scenes politics back in Haiti, and In My Father’s House, which has Chicago rapper Che “Rhymefest” Smith looking up the father he hasn’t seen in two decades.
Can you describe your life in just three songs? We start off with three songs by someone well known in Chicago, Che 'Rhymefest' Smith. He shares three songs that define who he is.
The first reason you should see “In My Father’s House” is because in hip-hop, nobody tells the whole truth. It’s the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It’s not something designed just to be like, ‘Look, Chicago, it’s all about guns! We’re Chiraq, it’s all about guns!’ Our story is all about overcoming the haters. This film is real hip-hop because it exposes the frauds and even the artists. That’s one reason.
This documentary goes beyond gender, race, social status, and family structure. Rhymefest, Donnie and Brian allow you to see them at their most venerable and what would seem embarrassing moments in their journey to not only getting to know each other but themselves.
The hip-hop singer and songwriter Che "Rhymefest" Smith met Kanye West when they were budding young rappers in the Chicago scene. "He came up to me and was like, 'Yo, you're one of the top rappers in the city,'" Smith says in this clip from the new documentary In My Father's House. "The one thing you're missing is tracks; you need beats and I got beats." A friendship born out of competition emerged, and Smith and West went on to co-write "Jesus Walks." In My Father's House, in theaters now, tells the story of Smith's career, its rise and fall, and his quest to reconcile with his traumatic past.
The documentary works on the level of honesty and realism. Che and Brian speak candidly about their faults and struggles and its uplifting to see them reconcile and strive for a healthy relationship, it also helps that everyone in the film is likable.
“Che’s mission to lift his father up. . .intimately demonstrates [how] health care, education and supportive housing. . .help a motivated man gain confidence and his life.” – Mora Lee Mandel, Film Foward
With Brian, Che, and their life themes within this compelling, warming film, "In My Father's House" becomes an open book exploration with subjects who are all the more real for their flaws; their journeys towards sounder lives always captured in motion.
The film is important not only for chronicling the rapper’s journey, but for its exploration of abandonment and fatherhood in the African-American community. It is a raw and brutally honest portrayal of a story that is all too common.
In My Father’s House goes well beyond exploring the journey of reconnecting with absentee father, Brian Tillman, who proves to be quite a character and balances the sobering tone of the film with his humor and candid remarks throughout. Rhymefest and the entire Smith family virtually invite you into their home as they share about his journey in the music industry, navigating his own struggles with fatherhood and more.
To fill it, I would make up stories about my father. I would tell my friends he owned a pickle factory in Los Angeles, because I thought that was odd enough to believe. I also started dating girls with dope fathers, listening to prominent figures such as The Hon. Minister Louis Farrakhan and dabbling in gangs.
IN MY FATHER’S HOUSE tells the story of the career rise, fall and potential artistic return of Che “Rhymefest” Smith as it chronicles his sincere but often-fraught journey to build a future for his own family by reconnecting with his traumatic past. In My Father’s House goes well beyond exploring the journey of reconnecting with absentee father, Brian Tillman. Rhymefest and the entire Smith family virtually invite you into their home as they share about his journey in the music industry, navigating his own struggles with fatherhood and more. The film provides intimate access to this complex hip-hop artist at a time of both personal and professional redemption.
In this often-fascinating documentary that's genuinely orchestrated by the entertainer and community figure, this process includes him reuniting with his father and sharing it with the world, which is where Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg ("Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work") come in. After Che filmed himself meeting his homeless dad in a Chicago library, going out for catfish and then refusing to help get his drunk dad some liquor as a parting present, the two directors came on board to track Brian's journey, and Che's life story.
"My wife and I were looking for a home to purchase, and I rolled past the house that my father grew up in and it was for sale," says Che Smith, the Grammy-winning hip-hop artist better known as Rhymefest, in the documentary "In My Father's House," which opens this weekend at AMC River East 21.
Rhymefest and his wife, Donnie, ended up buying that house, a charming red-brick bungalow in the Chatham neighborhood on the South Side. But something about being in that home sparks a restlessness in Rhymefest, an unease about his father's absence in his life. So he decides to seek out and reconnect with his estranged parent, a man named Brian Tillman who has been living on the streets for the past two decades.
Rapper and hip-hop artist Che “Rhymefest” Smith made it big, rising out of a fatherless household in a challenging neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side to become a Grammy-winning writer and performer, collaborating with Kanye West and John Legend (Smith co-wrote the song Glory from the movie Selma).
So why did his life feel so empty?
One big reason is that he had not seen his father, who left the family when he was young, for 25 years. Smith finds his father living a homeless, alcoholic life. On the surface, In My Father’s House is the story of Smith’s attempt to rehabilitate and reconnect with his father, Brian.
Co-directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg captured Rhymefest's difficult but lighthearted and emotional process of reconnecting with his estranged pops. Equal parts funny and touching, In My Father's House entertains, thanks to Rhymefest's naturally buoyant personality, while also addressing the sad reality of abandoned fatherhood in the black community.
Looking to set down roots and start a family with his new wife, Grammy-winning hip hop musician Che “Rhymefest” Smith buys the childhood home of his estranged father, Brian, whom he hasn’t seen in two decades and presumes is dead. Che is surprised to learn that Brian is still alive and, cognizant of his own share of parental mistakes, he decides to seek him out. Che discovers the alcoholic living on the streets not far away and begins a tentative friendship that soon blossoms into the kind of familial relationship that both men crave – but also one that brings unexpected changes and complications.
“In My Father’s House” begins with a slew of troubling statistics about children born into single-parent homes, but this shape-shifting documentary by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg is no sociology lesson. Shadowing the Chicago rap artist Che Smith, a.k.a. Rhymefest, for 18 months as he rockily reconnects with the father who abandoned him 25 years earlier, the filmmakers fashion an empathetic and emotionally layered portrait of a man trying to build a future by reaching out to his past.