While this past summer was bone dry in our usually flourishing city of Portland, Rasheed Jamal still swam in a river of inspirational beats and lyrical flow. August 21, 2017 marked the release date for this local hip-hop artist’s hottest new album, Indigo Child (U Ain’t the Only 1!). Rasheed uses a powerful collection of samples: soul music and southern comforts next to historical speeches, manifesting a kind of eerie ghost hidden among political and humanitarian lyrics. His music does invoke a sense of hope and togetherness, delicately laid with deep reminders of the weight carried by a black man in America.

A bit of an indigo child himself, Rasheed prides himself on his spirituality and connection to the world and those around him. His naturally calming presence is matched with stories of dreams, deep self-awareness, and inspiring reflections. “Every time my life gets to the point I want to give up, every time my life gets to a point where I just feel outnumbered and surrounded, I have a dream my dad is walking next to me… I’m standing next to him and then I wake up feeling better.”

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Growing up in a southern tourist town, Hot Spring, Arkansas, Portland is a long way from home for Rasheed. He is quick to emphasize his love for Portland, though he makes trips home regularly and is not shy about expressing the challenges of growing up with racism and violence in the south. “Just a lot of bad shit happens at home, so it’s not somewhere you really wanna stay.”

“I think I had like four or five of my friends pass away over the summer, different things… gun violence, car accidents. My little cousin died, gunshot wound to his chest, and he was like my little brother.” Rasheed has experienced a fair amount of death in his own life, having lost his grandmother, father, and many friends. For him, these losses seem to fuel a deep interest in the nature of consciousness.

“Your mind, your consciousness it isn’t in your brain, like there’s nowhere in your brain they can find it, all these years of neuroscience they can’t find where you are in your brain,” Jamal shared some of his feelings on readings of quantum physics, auras, and the power of dreams/energies. “I kind of recognize that when I talk to people, particularly when we collaborate or when we’re being creative… all these people, we don’t even have to talk about what we’re gonna write about.”

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Rasheed collaborates with many local artists: “My usual suspects I collaborate with, Glenn Waco, Mic Capes, Aaron O’Bryan Smith, we worked on some stuff…” At the recent Hip Hop Day event held October 15th at City Hall, Rasheed and Waco spit some rhymes together to a roaring crowd.

Portland is a bizarre feast of art and music, yet it is certainly not well-known for it’s hip-hop scene. While there are an array of talented, up-and-coming artists in Rip City, the culture is new and lacking. Rasheed explains, “…a lot of people here don’t know nothing about rap music. It’s just different music cultures. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s not somewhere that… rap music is really appreciated.”

With most of the big names in hip-hop stemming from NYC, LA, and Atlanta, Portland was never part of the East Coast/West Coast gangsta rap rivalry of the ‘90s. Here, we are far from the Bronx, the underground beginnings of rap, far from the Southern beginnings of blues, jazz, and soul, and out of touch with Texas chopped and screwed. Portland lacks a rich history of hip-hop, but this gap leaves room for a new evolution of artists like Rasheed.

“I wanna be somebody that people can look at… I mean, I’m not gonna evoke the same type of feelings as Tupac or Bob Marley, you know. Martin Luther King Jr. or like Malcolm X or cats like that, people I look up to.” With his eloquence and insight, Rasheed aims to make an impact, and to anyone who listens to his lyrics and beats, it’s clear he will do just that.

Eirinn Gragson