Your new favorite local rapper is not from Portland. He’s not even from the West Coast. Rasheed Jamal, born and raised in Hot Springs, Arkansas, moved to Portland a few years ago and has been putting in work on the local scene. Last December, he dropped his most important work to date, My Beautiful Ugly, and has also joined forces with Mic Capes and Glenn Waco to form a hip-hop trio The Resistance. Together they will be featured as part of the NW Hip Hop Fest, playing Saturday, Sept. 7. He met us at the Lloyd Center food court to discuss life, rap and microcosmic thinking.
It is obvious that Rasheed Jamal has a lot to say. As an only child in Hot Springs, he was shy and introverted, but connected with music at a young age. His mother and family participated in the church choir and his uncle was a jazz player, but his cousins introduced him to hip-hop. By the age of 8, Rasheed had started rapping and was soon reciting full verses and songs. At a church sleepover with all of the neighborhood kids around him, he rapped Do or Die’s “Po Pimp” for the young crowd and a star was born. He was recording his own music all through high school, eventually linking up with local underground artist Kricket X, who he credits as one of the few people who really affected his life as an MC. After taking a few years away from music due to family issues at 21, when he felt “older than he is now,” he moved to Portland a few years ago for a new outlook, and he has found a new home.
Rasheed is admittedly “still in culture shock,” noting how clean the city is and how neatly manicured everyone’s lawns are, but has come to love living in Portland. It’s clear that he still makes music for his hometown, to “give them something to be proud of,” but the new context gives him a new look on making music. His first official album, My Beautiful Ugly, was released in December and although it has seen a lot of positive response, he proudly claims that “I know this isn’t my best work.” This is because MBU serves more as a collection of his huge library of past work then a true representation of where he is right now. The album explores the dichotomy between beautiful and ugly, men and women, good and bad, “yin and yang.” With an album cover depicting his skin cracking and falling off, it’s no surprise that this is a very personal project, looking within and realizing that “nobody’s perfect.” Rasheed already has his sights on “My Beautiful Ugly 2,” but recently released Anthology Vol.1, a collection of more of his older songs (that he actually almost released from his phone while we were interviewing him). Describing his sound and where it’s going, he says “I’m still growing but I’m learning to personify my music, it grows with me.”
With influences as varied as any internet era kid, he credits everyone from No Limit, Bone Thugs, Z-Ro, Hot Boys, Outkast, Nas, Biggie, Wu-Tang, 2pac, Death Row, and Jay-Z to System of a Down and Nirvana. As much as he looks up to these heavy weights, he sees where the culture has gone wrong. “All the greats die, go to jail or get stuck up in the business,” he warns. The Portland scene specifically has some problems with “too many people trying to occupy the same space,” but Rasheed sees that the local artists and culture are “just young and learning who they are.” Jamal hopes to be a big part of that, along with his group, The Resistance and a lot of other young great talent in the city.
“It’s selfish to expect someone listen to you,” says Rasheed, as we discuss his upcoming work. That may be true, but you shouldn’t have any problem hearing it from us: Listen to Rasheed Jamal. What could have been a 15 minute Q&A turned into an almost 2 hour long exploration of the man and the MC, and I walked away with more notes than I took sophomore year of history class. Join us at the NW Hip Hop Fest at Ash Street Saloon this weekend, and be sure to download My Beautiful Ugly, Anthology Vol.1 and anything else you see next to the name of your new favorite local rapper, Rasheed Jamal.