After 24 Years Apart, Rapper Rhymefest Finds His Dad in Homeless Shelter

By Wendell Hutson on January 15, 2013 6:46am | Updated on January 15, 2013 8:31am

 Brian Tillman (r.) recently reunited with his son, Grammy-award winning musician Che "Rhymefest" Smith, after being absent from his life the last 23 years. Smith shared this image on Twitter with the message: Today's word is #FORGIVENESS.
Brian Tillman (r.) recently reunited with his son, Grammy-award winning musician Che "Rhymefest" Smith, after being absent from his life the last 23 years. Smith shared this image on Twitter with the message: Today's word is #FORGIVENESS.
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Twitter/@Rhymefest

CHATHAM — The last time Che "Rhymefest" Smith saw his dad, the Grammy-winning rapper was 11 years old.

But in an emotional meeting last week, the now 35-year-old entertainer met up with his father at the West Side homeless shelter where his dad had been living.

"It was not until I hugged him that I realized how much I missed having a dad around," Smith said in an interview Monday. 

His dad, Brian Tillman, 54, broke out in tears when he saw his son.

"I immediately started hugging him, as I cried my eyes out. I had been telling people my son was a famous rapper but nobody believed me," Tillman said.

The reunion only happened after Smith in July bought a five-bedroom, three-bathroom brick house on South St. Lawrence Avenue that was owned by his uncle and had been in his family for years. It's where Rhymefest's dad grew up.

"[My uncle] was looking to sell the house, and my wife said we should buy it to preserve the history and keep it family-owned," said the rapper, who ran for alderman in this 20th Ward in 2011 and placed second to Ald. Willie Cochran.

Smith now lives in the house with his wife and two children. His wife suggested he reach out to his dad.

"My dad has been in and out my life since I was about 3 years old, but the last time I saw him I was 11," recalled Smith. "To be honest I was not looking for him, but was encouraged to start by my wife after we moved into his childhood home."

Smith said his mother helped him reach "my dad's brother, who in turn put me in touch with a family friend. That friend told me what shelter my dad was staying at, and that is how I found him."

Tillman, 54, said he had attempted to find Smith in the past with no luck.

"I was so happy to see him and tried finding him before, but I had no phone," he said. Tillman admitted he was a heavy drinker, but said he is now working to get his life back on track and permanently be part of Smith's life.

 Tillman (l.), 54, said he had attempted to find his son in the past with no luck.
Tillman (l.), 54, said he had attempted to find his son in the past with no luck.
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Che Smith

"I have a drinking problem. I can admit that now. It has prevented me from doing a lot of things, including being a part of his life,"  Tillman said. "I am getting treatment for my drinking and developing a relationship with my two grandkids."

Smith said he has helped get his dad into treatment. He said he put his dad up for a few days in a hotel, but now Tillman is back living at the shelter.

Smith might head to Paris this week to work with fellow Grammy-winner Kanye West. Smith won a Grammy in 2005 for his work co-writing Kanye West's hit "Jesus Walks."

Meanwhile, Smith said he will do what he can to help his dad get on track.

"I will continue to help him as long as he continues to try and help himself," Smith said. "I am willing to do what I can to help my father because I do love him."

On Monday, Smith drove his father to an Illinois Secretary of State's office so he could get a state identification card. And Tillman said his famous son arranged for him to get a cell phone (the shop owner donated two months of air time) and took him out to dinner. 

"I got a steak, and it was good. I haven't had a steak in 20 years and forgot how steak tastes," Tillman said. "It feels good to have a son looking out for you."

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