Mere moments into Cilvia Demo you get the feeling that young Isaiah Rashad is still searching for meaning. Throughout his pilgrimage, within sundry soundscapes, he grapples with his own existence as a product of both inherited behaviors and conditioned ones. His journey is one of self-discovery; outside of cultivating a rather pious love for the rap of surrounding regions he isn’t actually sure how many aspects of his identity are self-curated. As a result, the project thoroughly explores both nativism and empiricism on the same plane, treating them like lead characters in his existential narrative. Regardless of which theme takes preeminence, it’s rather obvious the Chattanooga MC fills a paternal void with rap music. Rashad is a collector of father figures, most prominently from southern rap’s Mt. Rushmore, and his deep knowledge of their respective crafts feeds his aesthetic. Still, the story is his alone and it bears raw his humanity. Cilvia Demo is about imperfection.
Cilvia Demo is quite remarkable, operating functionally on multiple levels. Cosmetically and superficially, the EP serves as a suitable trunk rattler. Its pure sonics alone are enough to satisfy the untrained ear. Just below the surface, it’s blue-collar rap that views clichés through a mortal lens and not one of self-deification. On a more profound level, though, Rashad takes blind stabs at pathology, seeking half-heartedly to uncover what makes him the flawed human being he is. In this way, his music is both self-aware and self-indifferent. Despite his internal struggle to reach self-actualization, there is a strong sense of self latent within the music, and this contradiction becomes a rather interesting psychological dichotomy. Cilvia Demo is a brilliant piece of work simply because it so boldly professes its limitations while simultaneously seeking to surmount them.
Isaiah Rashad’s sound is a new breed of southern crawl: a neo trill, semi-emotive slow-moving replica of regional staples produced mostly by names you couldn’t pick out of a lineup (the exception being, obviously, Sounwave). Top Dawg in-house producer Antydote receives the bulk of the workload, but several others chip in. A few names you may recognize from some of last year’s liner notes are Black Metaphor and Mr. Carmack, and they both create fascinating soundspace for Rashad to operate. Every producer that contributes has a hand in building one of the more cohesive projects of the last few months. The young MC often structures his flows and cadences around the decadently textured, atmospheric wave frequencies, and they come, one after the next, all bringing a varied sonic punch that is still in line with the overarching motif: that being a homage to classic southern stylings with a modern spin. It feels wonderfully original, yet nostalgic.
Cilvia Demo’s standouts include “Webbie Flow (U Like),” which has a mean island bounce that catches Rashad in a groove; the inventive, soul-sampling “Heavenly Father,” where Rashad employs a sing-songy flow before grounding himself in an overtly honest breakdown; and “Banana,” which delivers a furiously paced second verse that is unquestionably the best of the MC’s young career thus far. “Just wait ‘til I get this shit perfect!” he howls confidently, and you can’t help but wonder what perfect sounds like if this isn’t it. Isaiah vehemently derides our Freshman class as if to suggest himself a tier above, and while such ego could prove costly, the confidence permeates the music, for better or worse. No song strays too far from the narrative or the occupied soundspace, and with each passing breath, Isaiah Rashad becomes a viable threat to leave an indelible mark similar to the one’s left by the southern rap Gods he follows so devoutly.—Sheldon Pearce