Image via Rufus Sims/Instagram

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Thomas Hobbs believes in bald solidarity; he can’t be angry at another bald man. If a bald person cuts him off in traffic, he’ll still smile at them.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Rufus “Weasel” Sims was one of the Windy City’s most recognizable drug kingpins. The Chicago Tribune once wrote he was “beyond rehabilitation” and that “his tastes included large diamond rings, diamond-encrusted sunglasses, a champagne-colored Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible and gold faucet taps in the bathroom.”

This lavish lifestyle ultimately caught up with him in 1995, leading to a 27-year sentence. It damaged his empire and left a boy with a father he could only talk to through glass. Weasel was a living legend in the city. He dressed like a fur coat-wearing pimp fresh from a Blaxploitation movie and hit nightclubs more like a visiting Hollywood A-lister than the leader of a narcotics operation.

Nearly 30 years later, Rufus Sims Sr. is now free. And in a fitting twist, his son and namesake is one of the most impressive street rappers from the West Side of Chicago. Living up to the semi-mythic expectations, he’s building a place for himself as one of the great storytellers in the Chicago tradition that includes Common, Kanye West, and Saba. He’s similarly an artist who makes you feel directly invested in his life story and as if you have a personal stake in all his family dynamics.

“I was an honor roll student playing sports, but when I came out of school all the gangsters shook my hand [because of my dad’s reputation]; I guess there was an allure to that,” Sims admits during our candid phone interview. “In my mind rolling with the gangsters made me feel closer to my father and would make him prouder of me. Out of my love for my dad, I started spending more and more time in the hood.”

With or without a dad considered a legend in the streets, you sense Rufus Sims’ visceral rapping ability was destined to make waves and establish him as his own man. He spits every intense bar like he’s sharing his last testament, with wisdom escaping through gritted teeth. Your attention is demanded.

Sims, who briefly pauses our chat to help his daughter locate a lost toy, continues: “School went out of the window. Every time I would get locked up, the cops would give me shit cuz’ I had the same name as my daddy. It didn’t matter that my family lost everything, they might find me with a pound of weed and one of them would still be like: ‘This n*** is a millionaire! He’s trying to keep the family business alive!’”

Amid ghostly howls and palpitating drums, he spends the chilling “No Thumbs” (easily the highlight of potent 2022 album, Who Sent You) caught between trying to talk himself out of hustling (“Lead you off the cliff, if you let them / bossed up, that’s why I got my own endeavors”) and embracing a violent last stand. The song’s passionate hook – which sees the words “I’m a Four Corner Hustler for the rest of my life” eerily repeated over and over – immortalizes the Chicago set that played such a pivotal role in Sims’ journey from boy to man.

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Even further back, on 2016’s “Champaign and Black Roses,” a crying violin arrangement mimics the ghosts of various loved ones reaching out from the other side, as Sims spits about “funerals of close ones, heart all over my sleeve / seeing my bro again feels like such a hopeless dream.” And with the gutter screwface anthem “Nextels” (a Clipse-esque ode to moving china white heroin and recorded for the duo The Little People, alongside emcee Jae Haze), Sims immortalized the pre-iPhone era, where drug dealers would use Motorola flip phones to carefully conduct their business.

On these aforementioned songs Sims’ vocal cadence reminds me of a golden-era Beanie Sigel. Similarly, this is music that can’t decide whether it wants to inspire a rampage or an emotional breakthrough – music where gruff yet enlightened vocals consider the perspectives of both the angel on your left shoulder and the devil on your right.

“I feel weird trauma dumping on one person, so music’s always been like therapy to me,” Sims says of his naturally raw approach to rapping. “With my raps I try to tell my story, but without telling my business.”

For whatever reason, this talented emcee’s rise to the top has been continuously stunted and his Spotify numbers don’t reflect the quality of his sound. Sims freely admits to having to battle against naysayers within his own circle, who’ve doubted whether rapping is really the best way to pay the bills for someone in their early 30s and with kids to feed. But having recently hooked up with the R. Baron Group (who helped launch the careers of the likes of 03 Greedo and Shoreline Mafia), and with contemporary underground rap pioneer Roc Marciano also acting as a mentor, it feels like Rufus Sims’ perseverance is getting closer and closer to finally paying off.

This month marks the release of his best project yet, House Arrest, a concept album immersed in the mental strain that accompanies being confined to your house with an ankle tag. There’s less trap and much more of a soulful core (courtesy of producer H.N.I.C Logic) to this new music. The consistent samples of a woman cooing carry the nostalgic intimacy of listening to your grandma hum along to a gospel song while doing the dishes in the family kitchen. The fact it was recorded while moving back home to live with his mother on house arrest isn’t a surprise; this is a project all about battling family demons and re-examining the depths of your roots so you can understand just how high you can grow in the future.

The overarching theme is that of restraint and growth beyond street activity, with Sims using the triumphant highlight “I Ain’t Going Nowhere” to reveal: “I had a long fling with the streets but chose not to marry it.” There’s even a song (“New Day”) that begins with a voice note Sims sent to himself from a prison pay phone, warning his future self never to make the same mistakes or ever dare return to a 6×8 foot cell. This record more than deserves to be Sims’ breakthrough project, but even if it gets overlooked somehow, he says he can sleep well knowing it’s finally out in the world. “This project is for any Black man on house arrest, forced to reassess their life,” he explains. “It’s a manual for rebuilding. It’s about becoming your own man.”

To celebrate the release of House Arrest, we spoke about learning from his mistakes, the unique smells of prison, being akin to a ghetto reporter, and his concerns around street rappers leading Black people “off the plank.” The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

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