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Rapper Rhymefest running for 20th Ward alderman

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Rhymefest pictured at Hilton & Towers in 2009.

He's the Grammy award-winning buddy of rapper Kanye West. He once sipped tea with David Cameron and invited the future British Prime Minister to go clubbing with him.

But Che Rhymefest Smith, a "third-generation" Woodlawn native, says his celebrity isn't about collecting "love and admiration." Smith, 33, says he wants to be the next 20th Ward alderman.

"The priority is to return the community back into the hands of the people who live here," Smith said, making his announcement Thursday inside Exclusively Yours Auto Spa, a South Side full-service car wash and detailing business. "For too long our communities have been dictated to. For too long our communities have been told what's going to happen."

Smith, who co-wrote the hit song "Jesus Walks" with West, said as alderman his first priority would be helping the people and businesses of the ward cut through the "red tape" that's stopping them from thriving.

Smith said he's sure his hip-hop career can be an asset - and that it wouldn't take his attention from work in the ward.

"I believe - I know - that we can use hip-hop to engage our youth and to engage our community," said Smith, who stood with his children, Amirah, 2, and Solomon, 12.

"Hip-hop has often been presented as a weapon of the community, but it's not. It's a tool."

Asked about taking on the incumbent, Ald. Willie B. Cochran, Smith said: "I'm taking on poverty. I'm taking on disenfranchisement. . . . I do think there is an absence of transparency and an absence of leadership.''

For his part, Cochran said he welcomes the challenge, but Smith is a poor candidate for public office.

"The voters of the 20th Ward know the difference between a professional public administrator who's been doing an outstanding job for them . . . as opposed to someone who is a known hip-hop artist who degrades women and promotes violence in his videos," Cochran said.

In 2006, Smith met with Cameron, then the leader of Britain's opposition Conservative Party, to talk about hip-hop and gun crime. They drank tea in the House of Commons, and Smith told the BBC that he liked Cameron and found him to be "very Bill Clinton-y."

Smith also invited Cameron out for a night of clubbing. A spokesman later told the BBC that Cameron's meeting with Smith had been "very positive" but that the Conservative Leader was too busy to go out on the town.