Vintage clothes, like vintage rap, require a certain charisma to bring back into style. As hip-hop’s never-ending quest for evolution and progress increasingly draws the genre away from its roots, MCs who do their OGs justice become fewer and farther between. As many of the DMV’s artists have gone down the predictable path of melodies over bars, DC’s Shaap Records has kept its brand of hip-hop distinctly gritty. For those looking for their lyrical fix, flagship rappers AKNHLEJOHN and Rahiem Supreme deliver a guttural take on hip-hop reflective of the realities of the city. Rahiem’s new tape Vintage Fendi is a sobering and deeply personal journey into the heart of America’s capital from an artist who keeps it beating.
The project begins, as is often tradition in the East Coast underground, with a brief vocal intro skit. Rahiem rags on himself for his obsession with his car and custom clothes, traits which have come to define him over the years. He’s joking, but there is an unmistakable aura of self-reflection as the project segues into “Tenacity”, the EP’s first song.
“Pops sold the dope, moms cut the coke/ Auntie overdosed on that dog food, it hurt my soul.” Rahiem isn’t interested in tiptoeing around the realities of his life, and the mark they’ve left on his character is often painfully apparent. It serves as a brief history of what makes Rahiem who he is, describing his struggles and motivation in a succinct 94 seconds. While the song starts as a recalling of harsh family memories, the sense of hopelessness is soon replaced by committed aggression as somber recollection gives way to braggadocio. The duality of Rahiem on a smaller scale mirrors the conditions of his city, riches and power juxtaposed with poverty and loss. “Tenacity” is thus a fitting title for the track, a tribute to not only the pain in his life but the strength required to overcome it.
The MC extends the theme of duality to “Vintage Fendi/ Shxt Torch”, rapping over a pair of Wun Two instrumentals bridged by a beat switch. The first half acts almost as a daydream, wishful thoughts occupying the mind of an artist perhaps too committed to his craft in a landscape of formulaic success. His perception of wealth both financial and interpersonal is bared on the track as Rahiem spits an idealistic outlook on his life (“I bought the fur for my girlfriend/ Two Benzes for my daughter now we splurgin”).
Quickly though the mood turns somber, the first half’s quivering flute sample replaced by cold synths and hope ousted by contempt. “Shxt Torch” offers little in the way of positivity, instead providing brief cuts into Rahiem’s life. Tales of his youth (“I walk around with a devlish grin/ My spirit left me on the day I turned 10”) quickly turn to robbing and hustling, reflecting how young kids in the hood are too often forced into street life. “Weasel Music/ No Pad No Pencil” picks up on the grown side of his life as Rah pours the struggles of being an adult caught between street and family life. “Fiends want crack, kids want Cookie Crisp” he cries out, highlighting that it is often the need to provide for others, rather than oneself, that drives impoverished people to crime.
While he bares the truths of the district in the first few tracks, on “Let Me Say My Grace” Rahiem ventures into introspection. The emotion is evident in his voice as he explores the moments that shaped the man he is today, ranging from the eviction of his mother to the deaths of his idols. There’s an air of nostalgia for the younger years (“Gilbert Arenas dropped 60 like every night/ Juan Dixon was a flop but was he ever nice?”) that often accompanies transitioning into maturity, accentuated by a fading, melancholy synth-fueled instrumental. “Grown Man Bars” extends the concept, a 90s New York-feeling jazzy beat accompanying Rahiem’s raps about what he deems to be ‘grown man shit’. Wealth is once again the focus, split between the act of getting money (“Lamb seats but the jacket ostrich/ We only drive foreign objects/ Stack change and make big bank deposits”) and having to use it to provide for the family.
Rahiem further explores his past on the gloomy cut “Cayenne Pepper”, painting a scene of his family as a child. He touches upon the death of his father, juxtaposing it with memories of get-togethers (“Capri Suns in the cooler/ Its nothin’ but fam here, we raise the bar”). Like many others he longs for those years, a time where innocence rained supreme over cynicism. Unlike the previous track P Funk’s production is this time highly minimalistic, utilizing an intermittent violin sample to add a somber tone to the soft drum beat.
On no track is Rahiem as direct with the project’s message as on the final cut “I Want The”. Listing off all the things that he wants, its clear that he is motivated to rise above the veil that has claimed so many close to him. While he dreams big, Rahiem doesn’t forget to stay realistic. Ambitions of having private jets are accompanied by more grounded and personal goals, ones he knows he must reach (“I wanna get rid of the Section 8/ Fuck a voucher man I wanna buy a new place”).
Loss, betrayal, and hardship are no strangers to Rahiem, but he wears his scars proudly. On Vintage Fendi he unapologetically bares his soul, constructing dreary landscapes of life in DC that may surprise many unfamiliar with the inequalities present within the capital. Seven tracks of gritty bars and somber recollections combine to create a heartening tribute to the streets he came from. Rahiem is here to hold it down for the District, yet he remains dead set in never letting it hold him back.