Chattanooga’s own comes through with his debut full length appearance, offering Southern hip-hop’s take on indie.
In his own lane apart from the Southern trap sound dominating this generation’s hip-hop scene is Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Isaiah Rashad. Besides two loose singles over this last year, Rashad has stayed surprisingly silent coming off a remarkable 2014 in which he released his debut EP, “Cilvia Demo,” to critical acclaim, and was named a member of XXL Magazine’s annual Freshman List. Until the week leading up to the release of his first studio album, The Sun’s Tirade, the hip-hop world was entirely in the dark as to where exactly the promising Southern boy had gone. Soon after announcing the project’s title and track listing, Rashad was met with hopeful anticipation for what appeared to be the young artist’s first attempt at a thoughtful concept album — an enterprise that Rashad’s label, Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), and especially labelmate, Kendrick Lamar, are known for. Rashad opened up about his two year absence and the root of the project’s inspiration — a struggle with alcohol and Xanax addiction and depression. Consequently, throughout The Sun’s Tirade Rashad pours out his heart regarding these struggles and anxieties. After experimenting with this conscious, emotional style on “Cilvia Demo,” Rashad really nestles into what feels like a comfortable and self-actualizing voice on this project. Ultimately, Rashad manages to craft a touching, layered and exposed follow up to his initial release.
In a cool and witty form, much like the sound of Rashad’s own music, the album’s cover artwork is a fitting representation of its feel. Drawn in a style similar to that of classic OutKast albums “Aquemini” and “ATLiens,” the cover shows Rashad — wearing Birkenstocks and white socks — floating above a lowrider Cadillac. Throughout the project Rashad draws heavy influence from the jazzy, soulful and experimental styles of the legendary Atlanta duo, and directly references his other Southern idols on tracks “Silkk da Shocka” and “A Lot.” Rashad balances this influence and respect as he continues to find his own niche with a warm, hazy and almost “cuddly” persuasion (fitting the vibe he gives off in his go-to socks and sandals). “Warm” is the perfect way to describe The Sun’s Tirade sonically, and thought of together with the title’s meaning — a “long, hot day,” as Rashad describes it — embodies just how cohesive his work is.
Across the album’s 17 tracks Rashad brings consistently thoughtful and emotional lyrics over chilled out, smoky-sounding production (again paying respect to his Southern inspirations often featuring live instrumentation). From a technical standpoint the primary area in which the young artist could see improvement is “raw” lyricism, but what Rashad may lack in complex rhyming and wordplay he makes up for with his creative flows and charismatic storytelling. For instance, on the poignant two part track, “Stuck in the Mud,” Rashad expresses his difficult and discouraged emotional state: “Oh, shots from the Ruger, shots from the Ruger/Somebody died but don’t nobody care/It’s all bugged out, I’m still drugged out/We miss the couch and the lean at my cuz’ house.” Rashad extends this imagery, most notably of drug abuse, across the album. Later, on “Dressed Like Rappers,” he writes about the struggle of missing his children and family, and the relation between those feelings — perhaps of guilt, sadness or questioning his career — and the drugs: “Saw my son, miss my daughter/Real life/What does it feel like?/I got my pills on/You know I’m real numb.” Lyrics such as these give Rashad’s music its most valuable and refreshing quality, as he vulnerably opens up to listeners about confronting his real life demons. Rashad writes from the heart, and as an MC comes across as honest, introspective and virtuous despite his worst flaws. In this way, what really stands out about Rashad’s music is the personal, subjective meaning one can find in his lyrics. In a similar style as one of his predecessors, Kid Cudi, Rashad’s verses are full of emotional cries and impassioned, sometimes even self-loathing thoughts. This “indie” flavour makes Rashad’s music the thinking-man’s rap of the current day.
Throughout all of these tracks the vocal performance is muffled, hazy and even sometimes feels lazy, as Rashad practically mumbles out his lines. This sort of “half-assed” flow lends itself favorably to the drugged out atmosphere of the project, and Rashad has no trouble making his mumbling melodic. Rashad is remarkably able to balance the album’s sonic cohesion with enough variation in instrumentals and flows to keep listeners interested for its entire length. Production credits range from in-house TDE musicians to longtime collaborator and fellow Chattanoogan, Ktoven, to Southern rap mogul, Mike WiLL Made-It. With this much thrown into the project’s creative mixing pot, it would be easy for a 17 track album to end up sounding confused and unpolished. However the creative direction behind The Sun’s Tirade manages to remain focused and fresh, balancing harder beats like “A Lot” with the more melodic “Free Lunch,” and even still with uptempo tracks like “Don’t Matter,” in which the instrumental throws back to OutKast’s classic single, “B.O.B.”
With an impressive initial success followed by his concerning absence, Rashad’s future in the hip-hop scene has been uncertain in recent years. However, staying true to himself in his music has been Rashad’s golden ticket once again — speaking to the quality of his character as more than just a rapper. Maybe it is just his Southern charm, but a musical glimpse into Rashad’s life and mind seems to be capable of doing no wrong. With The Sun’s Tirade Rashad has successfully created a cohesive portrait of where he has been mentally and emotionally throughout this quiet period. On top of its solid structure and well thought out idea, though, The Sun’s Tirade is a refreshingly Southern piece of music with which Rashad honors his influences without losing sight of his modern sound and place in the hip-hop community. Most importantly, Rashad recognizes and identifies with this place, half-singing in “Rope // rosegold,” “I got the music for the vibers, I got the music for the vibers.” The Sun’s Tirade successfully establishes itself with purpose in the context of hip-hop, and likely within Rashad’s own life. He is making laid back, worry free music as an outlet for himself, and as a peaceful and positive piece of art for listeners. All should be eager to hear what Rashad and Top Dawg Entertainment have in store next.