Even in lighthearted moments, D.C. rapper Rahiem Supreme doesn’t take his role as art director lightly. As a lyricist, he attains a visual quality by stacking images on top of one another, making for self-contained scenes which, taken together, evoke a pimp’s wonderland of European fashion, Japanese coupes, and blaxploitation-era riches. If there’s an element of escapism to Supreme’s verses—the funhouse mirror version of frequent collaborator Ankhlejohn’s dour, crime-infested underworld—they’re grounded by his autobiographical material which captures a rough-and-tumble mid-Atlantic childhood without self-pity or clean resolution.
Already a mainstay in D.C.’s rap scene, in 2018 Supreme embarked upon a breakneck run of full-length releases, dropping projects through Ankhlejohn’s Shaap Records on a nearly monthly basis. He kicked off 2020 with one of his most accomplished LPs to date, Everything Became Beautiful, an assured outing juxtaposing his raw vocals over smoky jazz loops. He was also featured on Big Ghost Ltd’s Carpe Noctem, an ensemble record showcasing a rising class of underground East Coast MCs including Estee Nack, Asun Eastwood, and Rome Streetz. On the eve of Supreme’s latest release The Pretty Prada Papi, we caught up to talk home recording, crate digging, and Nissan Z-cars. — Pete Tosiello
You’ve been recording at a frenetic pace for the last 18 months. Have you been staying active while quarantined?
Rahiem Supreme: Definitely. I got a little home setup a month-and-a-half ago, so I’ve really turned up the volume as far as recording goes. Before that I was still recording, going to other studios, working on three different projects. I’m gonna drop something in the next few weeks just to have something fresh on vinyl. The other projects I’m working on, I’m pretty much just trying to get something tangible again, as far as physical releases go. Those ones might be strictly vinyl and then downloads, but the one I drop in a few weeks I’m gonna have up on streaming.
It seems like you and Shaap Records have really tapped into the premium vinyl market. How has that influenced your approach to recording and marketing? Does it compel you to put out music more frequently?
Rahiem Supreme: Yes, but maybe you don’t really have to drop stuff as frequently. But I think it helps having something more put-together and tangible, so we’re consistently doing releases with physicals and merchandise. Definitely vinyl—if not vinyl, something creative. Maybe an action figure, three-track EP, bringing rarity to our merch pieces.
A lot of your artwork and videos evoke a 1970s vintage. Can you tell me about what’s behind your art direction?
Rahiem Supreme: Appreciate that. I’m influenced by a lot of old stuff. ‘90s, ‘80s, ‘70s play a big role in my direction. I study the album covers from that time, artists that was out making videos during that time. From Rick James to Curtis Mayfield, they gave me direction and I add my little twist to it.
By my count you put out a dozen projects over the last year. Looking back, do any of them stand out in hindsight?
Rahiem Supreme:The Man Wears Moschino one, and Matador. Man Time too. Those ones got spin on Shade 45 and Hot 97. Everything else had a little buzz also, but those projects in particular.
You’ve had a few projects produced by individual producers. How are you connecting with producers today? Do you pick your own loops, or do producers approach you with beats?
Rahiem Supreme: It’s half-and-half. Some send me beats, send me folders. I’ll see somebody retweeting a song or just liking a song on Twitter, see it on my timeline, and I’ll either ask the producer or go in the DMs, ask ‘em, like, I’m a fan of their music, some of ‘em kinda already know who I am. Sometimes they see me reach out, and I guess they might click on something, check it out, and they’ll write me back like, alright, let’s go. Kinda works like that. I’m trying to get an SP in a month or two so I can start trying to teach myself. But yeah, it’s both. Sometimes I crate dig. Sometimes they send me stuff.
How did you first link with Anklejohn and Shaap Records?
Rahiem Supreme: It would’ve been probably six, seven years ago. You know the scene in D.C., when they had Mumbo Sauce nights at Everlasting Life Cafe. Busboys & Poets nights too, he’d come to open mics. I met him in there, I believe it was the one close to Chinatown. I did something in there, he approached me after my performance, telling me he liked my music or whatever like that. Then I did a show or two at The CarryOut. Ran into him in there too, he asked me to be in a cypher he was doing on YouTube over in the Georgetown area. Ever since then it’s kinda like we got tight, and when he started the Shaap Records thing, asked me did I wanna get down—like, shit, bet. How he kinda market himself, and the type of music he make, I was like, this would make the most sense.
How did the Carpe Noctem record come together? Did the whole ensemble get together to write and record that?
Rahiem Supreme: Ghost already had his little formula and direction. He just reached out to me and said he was working on that project, he’s like, Could you send me some verses, some hooks? He sent me some beats—some of them I wrote full joints, some of them I wrote half-joints or just a verse. The stuff I originally wrote to, he used my vocals on different production, so I was kinda surprised too—it was definitely interesting workin’ with him.
I know you’re into cars and modification. Can you tell me about your relationship with the Nissan Z-series?
Rahiem Supreme: Pretty much since, like, sixteen years old I’ve just been infatuated with those. I’ve been purchasing them since I was sixteen, seventeen years old. You know at that age when you learn everything connected to whatever you’re into. At first I had an issue with maintenance because I didn’t know what I was doing. But the older I got and the more car-savvy I got, I started to know what to do to make a car fast—lowered suspension and all that. So, right now, I’m at enthusiast level with it. My cousins had Zs, they were pretty big in my area the time they was out, a lotta people knew about ‘em and had ‘em. I’m just a fan of imports—a lotta those were ahead of their time in terms of, you got the digital dash display, T-tops, the leather on the dashboard. It’s a lotta things about ‘em that had me like, man, I think they got something up in here. It’s just another art form, the way they’re built and designed, the quality, the architecture.
Do you put work into them to flip them?
Rahiem Supreme: Sometimes. It’s been times, life got a little rough, I had to get rid of the car. I just felt like, okay, I can get another one. This one I got recently, though, I think I’ll probably take this one to the grave. Sometimes I be flippin’ cars—I work part-time with my friend who does custom paint jobs. My cousin’s into buying old school cars and flippin’ em or keepin’ ‘em and restoring ‘em. I’m always around people who share that passion of rebuilding cars and restoring ‘em.
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