Top Dawg Ent.
Top Dawg Ent.

For most rap fans, Isaiah Rashad was introduced to the world on Cilvia Demo. Outside of some free music the Chattanooga, Tenn. rapper released on sites like SoundCloud, this was the first real official release from the young MC. The project was a critical hit and earned Rashad quite a bit of hype, but it was very much a preview of what he was capable of doing on the mic. Although Cilvia Demo was nearly an hour in length, the project was described as an EP or a mixtape, but nonetheless it showed off his skills and proved why he was signed to Top Dawg Entertainment along with artists like Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock and Ab-Soul. Listeners had yet to experience Isaiah Rashad in full. As the title of the project described, it was a demo record.

After Cilvia Demo dropped in 2014, there was silence from Rashad. The rapper toured as an opener for Schoolboy Q, but aside from a guest verse here and there, he was largely quiet. All of his label mates released at least one project in the meantime. Fans who were reeled in by the promise of Rashad's demo began to grow impatient as more than two years passed since a follow-up project was released.

That frustration is literally where The Sun's Tirade, Rashad's debut studio album, begins. The record kicks off with Dave Free leaving him a voicemail asking where he's been, and when he's finally going to bring fans his next project. Free asks, "You don't care that they want to hear your next shit? You just that good, huh? That must be your whole thing, then," before telling him that he's "got until Friday" to drop something for the fans.

The voicemail may have been fabricated to speak to the idea that Rashad's been ignoring his fans for the past two and a half years, but it rings true. What we do quickly learn from The Sun's Tirade, though, is that Isaiah Rashad has gone through a lot since Cilvia Demo, and it has not been all fun and games.

The big thing that the rhymer's dealt with in the past few years is addiction, and he's not afraid to touch upon it. Since he signed to TDE, released Cilvia Demo and started supporting Schoolboy Q on tour, he became increasingly dependent on the combination of Xanax and alcoholism to deal with his growing depression. This potentially lethal mixture of substances started getting in the way of his career, to the point where his contract with TDE and status as being on the same level as artists like those in Black Hippy grew very much into question.

The Sun's Tirade does not shy away from revealing the depression, the addiction and the self-hatred that Rashad experienced during this dark period in his life. In fact, it's often in the forefront. Many of the tracks have the rapper going back to these times, proclaiming that he is too messed up on the drugs and alcohol to deal with his underlying problems. On the two-part song "Rope/Rosegold" he states, "When I'm sober I might testify/That this world has fallen out of place" and goes on to say that he barely knows himself at this point.

He continues these themes as the album goes on. He even has a track called "AA" and discusses his addiction, spitting, "Nigga burnt out, can't even catch fire no more," confirming in his lyrics that his vices got in the way of his success.

Isaiah Rashad wears his emotions on his sleeve, which makes him a unique presence in hip-hop. There's a feeling that at all times he's being honest with listeners, since he's often showing everything -- warts and all -- in his lyrics. Along with addressing addiction, he also touches on his fame, even struggling with the audience he's found in music. He asks, "How do you tell the truth to a crowd of white people?" making note that his shows often are filled with White people who may not really understand the struggles that he lays out as a Black artist.

The brutal, genuine honesty that comes across in Rashad's music is similar to that which Kendrick Lamar has worked to success. So it's no surprise that one of the biggest highlights of the album is the two artists working together on "Wat's Wrong." Rashad's introspective raps complement K. Dot's verse about his motivations. "Depending on the way I feel, I might kill everyone around me/Might heal everyone around me, how the wind blow," Lamar rhymes. As K. Dot's stock has grown as an influential artist, he himself has conflicts on if he wants to express his dominance as one of hip-hop's biggest stars, if he wants to relay positive messages to his audience or maybe a combination of both.

The sound of the album is perhaps perfectly summarized on "Brenda," with the line "Mix that Boosie with that boom bap." Rashad likes to pay homage to the great producers of any coast in his music. He has the jazzy experimentation as many of his peers on the West Coast. Many of the beats on the album sound like some old school East Coast boom bap, with "Bday" even sampling the underrated Heltah Skeltah classic "Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka." Yet the album is also undeniably southern. Along with Rashad's accent, the music is just a little bit slower than some of his peers in other regions. The East and West coast influences are certainly felt throughout plus it's clear to hear how people from OutKast and Scarface to Boosie Badazz and Lil Wayne have influenced the Tennessee rapper.

The Sun's Tirade is often a heavy listen. There's talk of addiction, anxiety, depression and other cans of worms that may be a little too much for some listeners. It's not exactly the type of album you can play at a party, but it's clear that Isaiah Rashad doesn't want the record to be that way in the first place. Cilvia Demo was a taste of who he is, and now this album paints a complete picture of himself and where he is in his life right now. He lets his rhymes and observations do the talking, and the end result is one of the most refreshing rap records of the year.

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