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In May, there were murmurs of TDE signing their next artist. Tennessee rapper Isaiah Rashad was already a buzzword in the industry before he even dropped a full project to back it up. Peter Rosenberg, who is always on point when it comes to inside information, tweeted that he met the newest signee, but couldn’t say much about it. A month later, Power 106’s Rikki Martinez would be the first to announce Rashad’s new label home. Still, with no official confirmation from the camp, fans were waiting to hear the name that would be joining Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q and Jay Rock.

TDE prides itself on building things organically. When they brought on 23-year-old singer SZA to the roster, it was off the strength of her raw talent and where she wants to go with her music. That’s why signing Rashad isn’t too far from the ordinary. He's already got a number of impressive songs ("Hurt Cobaine," "Fake Trill," "Gusto") under his belt that have helped him gain notoriety. In addition, he's rapped alongside his labelmates and proved he can keep up with their thought-provoking lyricism.

Just a few weeks after TDE officially debuted his new track "I Shot Ya Down," we hopped on the phone with the 21-year-old Chattanooga resident to talk about the music scene in his city, getting inspired to rap by Master P, and how he got signed to TDE. Get to know Isaiah Rashad in The Come Up.—Eric Diep

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On Growing Up In Chattanooga, Tennessee:

Isaiah Rashad: Growing up in Chattanooga, Tennessee is probably as normal as it is growing up in Oregon. It’s the same as anywhere else, coming out [to Los Angeles] really help me see that. The people that I am surrounded by remind me the most of the people I was around from where I am from—like my family. In comparison, it feels a lot the same. It wasn’t like a crazy adjustment coming here. It was like moving into another house with my family.

Music has always been around me. It’s not like a small town living type thing [Laughs]. You know what I mean? It’s not like that. I don’t know every one of my neighbors’ type of thing. It’s a city. So, there’s a lot of music there. A lot of jazz. We got a big festival that happens every year [called] the Riverbend Festival. It’s like two weeks of music. I grew up on music. I grew up on all kinds of music. OutKast, I am close to Atlanta, so if you are close to Atlanta than I’m close to Nashville. Two really big cities of music, so growing up in Chattanooga, it’s just like a known part of a whole bunch of sounds. It wasn’t being underexposed or anything.

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On The Early Days Of His Music:

Isaiah Rashad: I’ve been rapping more and more since the 10th grade. We used to rap on desktop Macs. In my school, we used to rap on them during lunch. 6th period and stuff, I didn’t have to be in class, I was in band. So, I would go in there and we would record on the computer. There was no mic or anything. It wasn’t just like the mic in the studio. It’s one you use for photos or record videos; it’s the same mic. So we just throw an instrumental on there and rap on it. After that, I started rapping for a minute.

After I went to college and my homie who got me recording in school and everything, he introduced me to a guy with a studio. He was charging $20 a song. He turned out to be my cousin. We chilled for a while, and I found out he was my cousin. That’s some small town shit. I found out he was my cousin and he let me record for free. We ended up kicking it. I recorded then until he started working somewhere else. He started working at Volkswagen, so I bounced around a couple of studios. I stopped going to school and I lived wherever I could record at. I lived where I could record at for free cause I ain’t have no money and I have no work. I worked when I had to—don’t get me wrong. I had 15 jobs all together when I started working when I was 16. I had two and half jobs at a time.

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On How Master P Inspired Him To Rap:

Isaiah Rashad: Master P was my favorite rapper up until I really realized the skill set. Like, all the different things that can make up an artist. Master P made me want to be a rapper. He had gold in his teeth. Gold on his wrist. I was living in the projects at the time. I didn’t know he sold drugs. In his music, I didn’t get that interpretation. But I was oblivious in the inside. I know I lived in my own little world. I always see people around me were selling drugs and doing anything on the side, on that type of hustle. I was oblivious to it. I always had my own little world catered to me.

Master P was like ghetto superman to me. He had all his homies with him. He was riding on a tank. He was shaking down everything. He could do everything. He could play basketball and shit. That shit was tight to me. To me, its like what Kanye is doing right now. A lot of people wouldn’t accept the comparison. He wanted to do a bunch of shit his own way. He did that shit. Whatever he succeeded in all the way or however you look at success, he’s my first hero.

I bought my first Master P CD this year after I signed. I bought all these CDs. I had my dad’s CDs and I had Limewire and shit. I downloaded a gang of free shit. Zip files everywhere, my nigga. I bought his albums so I don’t feel bad when I am somewhere and I don’t have my laptop. I need to get on my phone and download some shit, I can go download it. I bought all his albums this year.

My favorite one is Ice Cream Man—just cause of the skits, those were tight. But probably Ghetto D. All of them! Ghetto D, MP Da Last Don. I bought DMX, It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot. I bought Bob Marley and The Wailers. I bought No Way Out. I bought Life After Death. I bought All Eyez On Me. I bought Late Registration. I never bought it, I got it from my cousin. I bought Tha Carter II. I bought Food & Liquor. I bought all the shit I downloaded man! I ain’t got no money. I bought all of Q’s shit and I bought good kid, m.A.A.d city.

On Signing To TDE:

Isaiah Rashad: I met [Dave Free, President of TDE] in March through one of my friends. I met him through an A&R who I was speaking to that was helping me out with some beats on the project I was working on before I came out here. I had been asked by a couple of labels. A couple of people tried to talk to me. I don’t know what happened. It seemed like in December a wave of a whole bunch of people started contacting me from different parts of the country. I wasn’t feeling them.

The only ones that I was feeling were these guys. I was feeling them because I met Dave on the fly. I met him on the random. He didn’t know who I was. I think he just heard my music. And I didn’t know who he was. We just chopped it up like real dudes over food. That was it. I didn’t see him after that. It was real casual.

I was in L.A. for a couple of days. On the last day before I left, I saw him. I didn’t see him again for like another three weeks. The next time I saw him he had called me. He had called me when I got there. He called me the next weekend. He asked me how I felt about TDE and everything. The rest is really history.

I don’t really have a straight answer for why [me being signed] was under wraps for so long. It just made sense. Just because I got signed doesn’t mean we have to put it out today. It wasn’t really anybody’s business to do it. We are trying to make the best product possible. The more people know, the more pressure it is. Even if it ain’t real pressure, it’s the more pressure to put on the staff and everybody and cater to the people. This is what we do. We’re artists. We do it for the people and we do it for people who enjoy music. You don’t want to let them down, but you don’t want them looking for some stuff for the longest and checking for some stuff. Basically, you want them to enjoy it. You want them to enjoy the experience of waiting for the project.

On His Fan-Made Mixtape, Welcome To The Game:

Isaiah Rashad: I appreciate it now. At first, I was tight about it when I first saw it. I thought it was kind of lame, but it’s cool though. I look at it from a different perspective. I appreciate the fact that people appreciate my music enough to want to share it, even when I am not trying to share it at the time. I couldn’t ask for anything cooler than that.

I’ve been waiting for the right time for me to feel comfortable to put a project out. Cause when I put it out, I want it to be exactly what it should be. Just a piece of myself right now. Like statements can be perceived the wrong way when you are trying to make a statement. But when you are just expressing yourself, I rather them make it a statement than me make a statement. I rather the people make it a statement. Make it something than me make it something. It’s just me expressing myself. It ain’t never no big deal to me.

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On His Project Pieces Of A Kid:

Isaiah Rashad: I’m not doing that no more. That was a real sad project. It wasn’t intentionally sad, but it was sad. I took too much time on it and not enough focus on it. I just took a lot of time making it, making parts of it, but it wasn’t focused. It was too focus. I was trying too hard. I wasn’t being myself. I’ll probably never drop it. I mean people heard pieces of it. “Hurt Cobaine.” “High.” “Fake Trill.” We had a couple of projects that I was supposed to be doing. I didn’t do them because I wasn’t ready to do them. I wasn’t supposed to do them. “Part III,” “Part II,” "Hurt Cobaine." Those three tracks were supposed to be on it and I had a couple more. I had eight new tracks. I scrapped all of them. “I Shot You Down” was one of them. That was the last one I recorded. “I Shot You Down” was when I was deciding if I wanted to do that project or if I was going to move on with something else. “I Shot You Down” was a transition to all of this. It was a start over. It was like my life started over.

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On What He Wants To Accomplish As An Artist:

Isaiah Rashad: I didn’t come into it with super high expectations of like, “When I drop my first song, I am going to have a couple thousand people looking at my stuff.” [“I Shot Ya Down”] isn’t the first song I dropped. The first song I put out, it did what I thought it was going to do. I did real local stuff. It got two-three hundred views in the first couple of days. To me, that’s the same as 300,000 when don’t know nobody know who you are. I just worked on that. I worked on perfecting how I wanted to communicate with people and the right ways to put out music and everything. Seeing how I am accepting now is more like, “Alright cool. Finally learning the right way to do some of this stuff.” Learn how to build anticipation and all this type of stuff. All it is is a big learning experience.

I think it’s cool to experiment by myself. Kind of get some of this stuff down before I put everything out. I don’t want to practice on your ears. I want to give you half of the picture that I am starting to draw. I guess you could say that I am starting to find my own sound. But, that’s really only this year. I haven’t been doing it for a long time. Only for a couple of years. I’ve been rapping since I was 16. I’ve been making songs for about a year in a half.

I didn’t always think of myself as an artist. At first I thought of myself as a fan of music. Sometimes a fan doesn’t appreciate another fan. A fan might get jealous of another fan. A player might get jealous of another player and stuff like that. A rapper can get jealous of a rapper. I’m growing more to accept the term of an artist and how important the term is. What I want to accomplish as an artist is I want to make a project that I enjoy as much as I enjoy Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah Part Two. That’s one goal. I know it’s stupid, but I want to be one of the greatest. I want to be one of the best artists ever.