Arkansas native Rasheed Jamal (a Portlander since 2008) might be my favorite rapper in town—his “country rap” pairs extremely personal lyrics with expert-level rhythmic delivery. I’ve watched Jamal continue to challenge himself with the complexity of his bars and intricate flow. That’s why he stuns the crowds at his shows, even when he’s not 100 percent perfect. It doesn’t hurt that his even-tempered voice and slight rasp are easy to listen to, and I’ve never heard him yell-rap into a mic.
This month Jamal’s dropping Indigo Child, his follow-up to 2015’s SANKOFA. Its 13 tracks sound both gritty and inspired. “Never Die Alone” samples Nina Simone’s “Be My Husband,” and depicts an intense modern-day romance characterized by “you still up?” texts and eggplant emojis at 2 am.
On the standout “Muddy Waters,” Jamal offers his signature speedy and succinct bars, coherent flow, and clever wordplay. He unflinchingly addresses his haters, rough background, and determination to keep “climbing up the ladder.” The song’s beat, produced by Lexi Banks, would do well in a club, though Jamal’s lyrics are often critical of the club rap scene.
Other highlights include the mellow “FWM” and “What’s the Matter,” which features Jamal singing the refrain from Ashanti and Ja Rule’s track “Happy” as well as his own lines: “I got 99 problems nigga, leave me alone/’Cause if I knock your ass out, you can tell me I’m wrong/And you be causing more drama than most of these hoes/And the evils of the world got control of your soul.”
Dope one-off singles like “Pause for the Cause (Bounce)” and the tribute “Prodigy Knows Best” made the cut. Luckily, by the time he rocks the Thesis at Kelly’s Olympian next month, we’ll all be up to speed.