Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) is synonymous with some of the biggest names in rap. From the incredible lyricism of Kendrick Lamar, the dominant flow of Schoolboy Q, or even the raw vocal skills of SZA, (just to name a few), TDE has established itself as mogul in the rap industry. Yet, a true gem of TDE may be an artist you have never even heard of, Isaiah Rashad. Hailing from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Isaiah’s raps have a personal touch and sentiment to them that is incredibly unique. Every song acts as a glance into his soul and mind, as he lays out the torments and demons that he carries with him everyday. Just recently he dropped his Sophomore album, The Sun’s Tirade, and just like all TDE records, the quality is unmatched. However, with the quality of the album, it may surprise many to find out the album was almost never produced at all.
Isaiah first entered the rap world in 10th grade, rapping and recording on laptops with his high school friends. However, he didn’t receive much exposure during this time. It wasn’t until he entered college, where a friend who entered university for music production, introduced him to one of his friend’s with a recording studio. He eventually quit university and invested all the time he could into recording, hoping somebody would notice his efforts. Isaiah perked some ears and got a few record deal offers, however, none he accepted as he didn’t feel they were the right companies for him. This waiting paid off, as after a meeting with TDE CEO, Anthony Tiffith, he got signed by the TDE label. This was officially announced via twitter on September 20th, 2013. Isaiah followed this up this with his first project released by TDE, titled Cilvia Demo, named after his first car to hint at the contents of the project, his youth. The demo was an EP and contained few features. Instead of trying to do a large amount of collabs and make hits, he attempted to capture the feelings and experiences that defined his youth. Whether it be the struggle to grow up with an absent father as spoken about in the track “Hereditary,” his experiences with drug use described in “Heavenly Father,” the racism he faced talked on in “Cilvia Demo,” and much more. The project saw great success; it debuted at number 40 on Billboard's top 200 and sold around 8,500 copies after its first week of release. It looked as if Isaiah was ready to take the rap world by storm.
Yet, instead of being a household name following his Cilvia Demo, it was almost as if Isaiah had disappeared. What many fail to realize is the stress and pressure put on an artist after their first project is so widely accredited and praised. Often the young artist fears they can not live up to the expectations they set, which could’ve been the reason why Rashad’s name disappearing from the rap game almost as quickly as it had appeared. Following his Cilvia demo, Isaiah found himself in a sinkhole of alcohol and prescription pills. He had thought moving to L.A. was the right move in order to provide a home for his girlfriend and child. Instead he found boredom, isolation, and a lack of inspiration. This snowballed into a bout of depression and anxiety, one in which Isaiah saw xanax and alcohol as the only escape. His abuse of these substances got to a point where he even tore the lining in his stomach, and during this time he wrote and produced almost no music. Eventually, TDE CEO Tiffith had enough. Isaiah hadn’t given him any new music so Tiffith threatened to drop him from the label. This encounter is discussed in the skit “Where u at?” Luckily, this threat got Isaiah back on track, and he was able to complete his Sophomore project.
On September 2, 2016, Isaiah released his debut studio album, The Sun’s Tirade, and was quickly met with critical acclaim. The album debuted at number 19 on Billboard’s Top 200 and sold around 19,000 copies during its first week. The inspiration behind the album name is harder to interpret than Rashad’s last project. He says it is supposed to represent a long, hot day, that seems to never end. Often these types of days are connected to sluggishness, demonstrating the state Isaiah was in following the Cilvia Demo as he grappled with his addiction, a time where he felt he had no true direction. It also seems to hint at the fact that Isaiah saw his last two years sort of morph together into one hot day. The project contains strong features from the TDE family, whether it’s Kendrick’s insane verse on “Wat’s Wrong?,” Jay Rock’s feature in “Tity and Dolla,” or SZA’s strong showing in “Stick in the Mud.” With all the features on his albums, Rashad is still able to deliver a strong message. The album is truly the story of the fall he faced and his attempts to get his life back on track. In the album he touches on his addiction in “Wat’s Wrong?” as well as “AA.” His struggles with mental illness were portrayed in “Stuck in the Mud,” as well as the improvement of his relationships with his son and mother touched on in the album's hit “4r da Squaw.”
Rashad, along with the entire work of art Cilvia Demo, seems to want to face his demons head on. Covering these sort of topics is nothing short of inspirational for the youth. So often are things such as mental illness and addiction swept under the rug and even considered taboo. This album opens this dialogue and could even show those struggling with these same issues that there is a way out and they are not alone. Isaiah Rashad’s new hit The Sun’s Tirade might have been as therapeutic for him to write, as it will be for some to listen. He even goes as far as to try and inspire the youth in his music. The future of Hip-Hop seems a lot brighter with Rashad as one of the leaders.