Editors’ Note: Although there is no profanity in this article, many of the artists mentioned do have explicit lyrics in their music, as do some of the songs and articles linked below.
Isaiah Rashad is a 25-year-old up-and-coming rapper from Chattanooga, Tennessee. In his early life he lived with his mother; his father left his family when he was three years old. Rashad had planned to be a preacher until his step-brother gave him a copy of Outkast’s, ATLiens, inspiring him to start rapping. He began to seriously rap in the 10th grade, and after graduating high school he would attend Middle Tennessee State and study music production. Shortly after entering Middle Tennessee, he stopped going to school and started living wherever he could record. At 21, he became a father and moved to Los Angeles to further his music career. In 2013 he signed to Top Dawg Entertainment with no complete projects. He dropped his debut album, The Cilvia Demo, in 2014, and was later selected as a 2014 XXL Freshman. His debut album gained him some followers, who loved his lyricism and the way he is able to rap about sensitive and personal topics, such as suicide. His newest album, The Sun’s Tirade, is more focused than his demo tape, and he continues to become a better artist. The album also features some big names, such as Kendrick Lamar, SZA, and Jay Rock. While his popularity has increased, his style has not changed. His style, combined with the intense nature of what he raps about, makes him an enjoyable artist to listen to.
Rashad’s style comes from his home and his past experiences. When prolific rappers are discussed, it often becomes an argument over East Coast versus West Coast. The most notable example of this is Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, with Tupac coming from the West and Biggie from the East. The brawls over which coast is the “realest” and most hardcore created unique differences in styles of music, but most importantly it led to the up rise of southern hip hop. The South produces a different genre of hip hop, unlike what you will find in New York or California. The most notorious southern artists are OutKast, Oscar winners Three 6 Mafia, and Gucci Mane. For years, these types of artists, from primarily Atlanta, Georgia, and Tennessee, have been selling millions of records by making dance and hit songs, but have seldom produced any music with deeper substance or meaning — they don’t preach the struggle or to fight the power like the artists before them did. Southern hip hop did not have many socially conscious artists like Public Enemy the leaders of the Black Pride Movement during the 1990s, responding to racism and social injustice. Southern rappers popularized cars with big rims and glossy paint, having multiple women, and doing and selling drugs. Although those motifs have always been present in hip hop, the difference is that some of the older music personified the struggle and being proud to be black — whereas the new music teaches the importance of money, clothes, and women. All this influenced Rashad’s music and gave him the dirty, grimy sound of the South. But at the same time, Rashad’s music is not ignorant; in fact, it is some of the more well-spoken and diversified music out right now. The Sun’s Tirade is full of lyricism and vibe and makes for perfect listening if you want poetry.
Rashad’s wordplay, accompanied by the crisp production, gives the album enourmous value. On the track “4r Da Squaw”, Rashad’s words walk on a slow, deep beat; he is full of self-loathing, and the love of his son, Yari. In the chorus he says —
“If I can pay my bills, I’m good, I’m comin’ over
Found a message in my bottle your son is comin’ up
By the beer, by ear, by boo.. what Yari saying?
You ain’t nothin’ but a baby, your fear is growin’ up
Listen here I say my dude and what you call it
It was heaven at the bottom and peace from throwin’ up,
By the beer, by ear, by boo.. what Yari saying?
You ain’t nothin’ but a baby, your fear is growin’ up”
In this verse, he first references his previous struggle with money and the fear of never making it in the music industry. The “message in the bottle” is a reference to the realization that his son is growing up, and he needs to start being a father before anything else. He speaks baby gibberish and tells Yari about his addictions and warns him about drugs, saying “it was heaven at the bottom and peace from throwin’ up,” referring to his past alcohol abuse. This first song sets the tone for the rest of the album and leaves the listener intrigued to hear more. Rashad does not tell the listener what he means directly; he leaves room for interpretation and gives suggestions. There are some times where he changes his language and speaks less metaphorically in straight, simple sentences to get the point across. He does this on “Dressed Like Rappers,” where he says “real life, what does it feel like? I got my pills on, you know I’m real numb,” again referencing his past addiction, but very bluntly this time. The album has no unimpressive tracks; every song has meaning and a beat to draw you in.
Pitchfork.com gives the album a 8.1 out of 10, saying “The Sun’s Tirade remains heavy with sound and subject. Rashad often reveals his deepest misgivings and uncertainties and scales his woes with liquid courage, intoxicated and numb. But instead of a disorienting album that tries to replicate those druggy highs and lows, the songs are clear-eyed, sobering, and even more detail-oriented than Cilvia Demo.” Music lover and Top Dawg Entertainment fan Kevin Cross (‘17) had this to say about the album: “It’s dope, it has great production, introspective lyrics, grimy flow, smooth flow, and great features.” Cross’s favorite songs are “Wats Wrong,” “Parks,” and “Dressed Like Rappers” because of their lyrics and vibe. Rap enthusiast Grant Villanueva (‘17) said, “for me, it was a perfect mood balancer. Each song was hype, but focusing and chilling. Perfect for boolin’.”
I believe lyrics are the most important component of any album, and I admire Rashad’s style and love his beats, but without lyricism and wordplay songs many of his songs would be dry. He has meaningful lyrics, but his delivery is what separates him from the competition. He can have the raunchy flow of the South, or a smooth jazz flow. He is perfect on every beat he raps on because of his knowledge in music and production. His past gives him the lyrics, his hometown gives him the style, and his education in music gives him the ability to rhyme on every beat. I loved this album, my favorite songs being “4r Da Squaw,” “AA,” and “Silkk Da Shocka.” I rate this album a 9 out of 10 because of the value and vibe all the songs have.