By CERVANTE POPE //
From serious topics like race to fodder poking fun at fake ballers on social media, SANKOFA is riddled with bangers that both make you think and make you bounce.
Portland is an interesting place. The youthful vibrancy of the city has and continues to bring a wealth of newcomers (and their ACTUAL wealth) to the Rip City. How that is affecting Portland can be observed everywhere no matter which way you turn, but lesser consideration is given to how this onslaught is affecting Portland's flourishing, yet still under-appreciated, Hip-hop scene. Of all the artists and collectives not getting nearly enough cred out there in our rainy streets, Rasheed Jamal Washington stands on his own with a sheer eloquence and consciousness that seeps into his music fervently.
Dropping "Washington" in regards to his stage name, Rasheed Jamal arrived in Portland from Hot Springs, Arkansas, at the boozy age of 21 and has been living here on and off ever since. He hails from a fairly large family that spans throughout Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, but his immediate elders really did the most for his development. "The 90s were pretty heavy in gang violence, racism and drug abuse, but it was also the last decade that a lot of us had the overall influence of our grandparents holding our family and community together," says Rasheed. "Those of us that are fortunate enough to have flourished throughout this time period have a different kind of resilience that isn't celebrated as much as it should be. My grandparents were my childcare while my parents worked, so I learned a lot from them as a child."
Amid these mornings spent discussing daily news and nights comprised of Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune with his grandparents, Rasheed slowly started leaving the house more to play basketball at age 11. The combination of breaking his hand, and his older cousins and their repetitive play of Tupac's All Eyez on Me opened him up to the world of Rap and Hip-hop as a passion and profession.
"I've always known that I wanted to be an artist because I had wanted to be a cartoonist and make my own version of Looney Tunes or make a show about basketball players," Rasheed recalls. "I let that go once I saw what they were doing with Dragon Ball Z. I wasn't ready." He may not have been ready for animation but a young Rasheed was ready to record and ended up releasing his first album, Underground Celebrity, at 16 while still in high school.
Though copies of his first album and the other three he released before graduation have been lost in the shuffle of adulthood, Rasheed looks up to many different artists, but attributes the basis of his inspiration to three in particular. "Tupac Shakur has been the most inspirational to me emotionally, Outkast has been the most inspirational creatively and Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor gave me the confidence to find my own voice and to stop hiding my intelligence, not only on my records, but in my day to day life," Rasheed says. You can sense all of these influences when listening to his music, but hints of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Jay-Z and Houston based rap label Swishahouse can also be heard, as he studied these artists as well while coming up in the game.
With current music being nothing like it used to be, Rasheed has still taken a fancy to some lesser-known groups, like Ibeyi and The Internet, and to some bigger ones like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Flying Lotus. He's got quite the hope for what's to come, saying, "It's a dope time to be a musician because the game changes everyday."
Rasheed is a prime example of the ever-changing game. It'd be hard not to be after having so many years in it. His latest album, March's SANKOFA, is filled with poignant tracks like bass-blasting and politically charged "Urban Decay" and "Requiem For The Pimp" that truly showcase slick and sick flow. He puts samples (not of beats, but of relevant speeches) and trap-like beats to good use on the album, both of which compliment the album thematically. From serious topics like race to fodder poking fun at fake ballers on social media, SANKOFA is riddled with bangers that both make you think and make you bounce.
To find such a perfect balance is difficult for many but not for Rasheed, who has perfected it with ease. He's still out and about promoting SANKOFA and even hinted towards releasing a deluxe version of it with bonus tracks, so be on the lookout.