It took some additional research to differentiate Rasheed Chappell from Little Vic, as I’m familiar with the latter emcee but hadn’t heard of Rasheed before, outside of intermittent appearances on the American radio circuit. I assumed this was Little Vic rapping because it sounds like Long Island’s Little Vic – that weathered accent not unlike one of my favorites, Rochester’s Eto. But nope, this is produced by Little Vic and it’s Rasheed on mic duties, which makes this doubly intriguing. At twenty-eight minutes, “A Portrait Of” is denser than many albums twice its length, showing its hand as another example of grimy underground hip-hop, but hiding a personality that’s captivating in its own way. When you’ve got Little Vic on form too, it’s anything but generic. It made me happy that artists are still making deeply personable, aurally satisfying New York hip-hop that gives the listener the screwface but keeps you interested lyrically.

Many musicians channel their pain and trauma into their craft, and Rasheed Chappell has created an album that’s particularly poignant, hence the blunt title “A Portrait of”. The unfiltered artwork confirms these intentions, along with the level-headed delivery. For some listeners, it may be a step too monotonous, akin to naysayers that aren’t keen on a Skyzoo or AZ, but I found it hard not to like the majority of what Little Vic and Rasheed Chappell have portrayed – this album is, much like the recent Rasheed release “Sugar Bills”, a real gem.

The song “Praise” struck a chord with me, as a divorced father, particularly as you rarely hear such honesty from fathers admitting how hard it can be to miss out on moments in your child’s lives. The fact Rasheed has tied this to his dream to succeed at a career in rap, his personal vice as he puts it, makes his words all the more potent. An ability to highlight the right lines means his rhymes linger longer in the memory – you can feel the story behind “I had to leave my queen to become king” as he puts it on “Tax Free”. Boom bap enthusiasts, in particular, will appreciate the scratches as we get some financial advice from Rasheed.

I never expected such an under-the-radar release to blare as loudly as it does, but there’s certainly a chemistry between Vic and Chappell that brings out the best in both. The romantic tones of “Save Room” slam hard – it’s proper hip-hop done right. The same could be said of “Tanisha”, as Rasheed shares details on how he fell for a babysitter in his younger years. There’s a little bit of (dare I say it) Ghostface Killah in “Manna from Heaven”, with the way he weaves words together. Vic laces him with a crazy instrumental that is frustratingly brief, flirting with a gorgeous vocal sample wailing away, before crashing you over the head with some Wu-Tang piano stabs. When I say it’s frustratingly brief, it’s an understatement.

“Becoming” may be the best of the bunch, an optimistic final track with horns playing in celebratory fashion, showing the Jay-Z influence Rasheed cites earlier in the album. Praise needs to be heaped upon Little Vic, an emcee that may be familiar to ardent hip-hop listeners, but his production skills really impress here. A 2008 interview with Billboard states that he “definitely wants to be recognized as a producer and as an MC, separately”, which, in an era of Roc Marcianos and 38 Speshs where top lyricists are also strong behind the boards, only emphasizes how long Little Vic has been underappreciated at his crafts. The combination of Little Vic and Rasheed Chappell proves to be more than merely beats and rhymes, with “A Portrait Of” being a real sleeper hit I’ve struggled to remove from rotation ever since it dropped ten months ago.

Rasheed Chappell & Little Vic :: A Portrait Of
8.5Overall Score