By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
It sits off South Shore Drive with its peeling baby blue paint. The childhood home of megastar Kanye West has been falling apart for years. Time and neglect have left the house in a severe state of disrepair.
Amid fanfare and much publicity, Rhymefest on November 25, 2016 announced on Instagram that he had purchased the abandoned house for an undisclosed price from a bank.
Now, ten months after Chicago rapper Che “Rhymefest” Smith’s pledge to renovate the property, the one-story structure will meet the wrecking ball.
Rhymefest’s organization, Donda’s House, plans to demolish it and build a community arts center for aspiring young hip-hop artists on the site.
What started out as a big plan to turn the house into a symbolic refuge for a struggling neighborhood turned into a $1 million project that has Rhymefest and his organization scrambling to find money for the project.
While the search for funds continued, the crumbling house was left to time and the elements, before news reports and pictures surfaced, showing trash and spider webs on a structure with cracked walls and damaged ceilings. Too small to accommodate Donda’s House’s community arts center, the home’s days are numbered.
Donda’s House made the announcement to demolish the house in a progress report that was released on Tuesday, Oct. 3. According to the document, “An Update on Litehouse: Donda’s House,” the organization met with an architect who recommended they demolish the property and rebuild due to “significant structural damage.”
Rhymefest’s wife, Donnie Smith, who is executive director of Donda’s House, confirmed the demolition plans in an email to the Chicago Crusader on Oct. 4.
“Our plan is to demolish the home in order to build our Donda’s House Center,” Smith said in a statement.
“Additionally, we want to be able to accommodate more people, and the current space would not allow us to do that,” the report read.
According to the City of Chicago’s portal, no demolition permit has been issued to tear down the structure.
For years, the home was an eyesore in the neighborhood, but when Rhyme-fest bought it in 2016, hopes ran high that it would become an asset to a community that badly needs it. Rhymefest said he planned to turn the house into a community arts incubator. Plans for the facility would include a recording studio and music museum.
It would also be the headquarters of Donda’s House Inc., a nonprofit organization founded in 2013 in memory of West’s mother Dr. Donda West. She died after undergoing plastic surgery.
Rhymefest, who runs the organization with his wife, wanted to write the next chapter of Donda’s House’s history with the construction of the new community arts center. Since Donda’s House began in 2013, it has operated out of the Ark of St. Sabina, the Harold Washington Library and Columbia College.
“We want to show bright spots in communities that have been divested from – we know more Lights exist here, they just need to be activated,” Rhymefest said in his announcement.
West lived in the house before he attended Chicago State University, where he majored in English before dropping out to start a musical career that would make him one of the most successful musical artists of all time.
In addition to announcing plans to demolish the house, Donda’s House also said the organization had met with an alderman and was told that the space is currently zoned for residential use and needs to be rezoned in order to accommodate the organization’s programming.
The progress report also indicated the organization removed a damaged storage shed in the back of the property and repaired a hole in the roof to “prevent further structural damage.”
To pay for the $1 million plan to build a new structure, the organization says it has embarked on a capital campaign and has planned a fundraiser on Nov. 28. Donda’s House also plans to launch a new website devoted to the new space at West’s childhood home in January 2018.
Donnie said the organization has met with potential investors who expressed interest in helping once the space opens. She also said the organization will hold two fundraisers next spring.
Rhymefest is optimistic about his plans for West’s childhood home.
“We have a solid vision for the space, but now we need the dollars to back up that vision,” he said in a statement. “Hip-hop artists have been at the forefront of the fashion industry and the film industry, but it is now time that we participate in developing communities that we come from.”