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“4r Da Squaw”: Isaiah Rashad’s The Sun’s Tirade Shows the Fears and Joys of Growing Older

We are terrified of getting older. As we grow up, the responsibilities and worries often grow with us, and the potential for cynicism becomes easier each day. If we can keep this cynicism at bay, growing up can bring deeper mental clarity, greater self-acceptance, and more opportunities to start providing value to the world around us. As time’s arrow moves us forward, we have the ability and choice to become bitter or become better. In a perfect world, we end up in the latter, and in a disillusioned world, we end up in the former. Many of us, as we are figuring this life out, end up somewhere more in the middle, teetering the tightrope of optimism and pessimism. Isaiah Rashad’s stunning opener “4r Da Squaw” from his debut album, The Sun’s Tirade, is an emotionally evocative and uniquely nuanced portrayal of this middle.

“4r Da Squaw” by Isaiah Rashad

Isaiah walked through a tumultuous and turbulent path before he arrived at this middle. In the two years since Isaiah’s debut EP, 2014’s criminally underrated Cilvia Demo, Isaiah began suffering from a xanax and alcohol addiction while on tour, as he struggled with depression, anxiety, and social isolation. As a result, his debut album was delayed multiple times and he almost got dropped from TDE, his record label, on three separate occasions. He brought all these pains to 2016’s The Sun’s Tirade, as these experiences became mental recording sessions for his art. The rawness of his emotions bleeds through every single track of this album. It quickly becomes clear that Isaiah has no interest in appealing to a mainstream audience — his album is an honest and authentic work brimming of countless moments that are both heartwarming and heart-wrenching.

These moments are evident within seconds of the first track.

“If I can pay my bills, I’m good, I’m coming over / Found a message in my bottle your son is comin’ up / By the beer, by ear, by boo — what Yari saying? / You ain’t nothin but a baby, your fear is growin’ up / Listen here I say my dude and what you call it / It was heaven at the bottom and peace from throwin’ up”

Isaiah’s very first line of the album conveys a simplicity and sanctity of just being able to pay rent. This monetary ability to stay alive and safe is sometimes taken for granted and Isaiah brings to light the peace of mind that comes from satisfying these basic needs. Yet still there is a tempered melancholy present in this chorus, signaling that Isaiah may have let go of bigger dreams past financial security, dreams of creating art and impacting hip-hop culture in ways he may have once aspired.

As the chorus continues, Isaiah utilizes brilliant wordplay and symbolism to paint the contrast of the darkness and light present in his life and how they are interconnected. He looks for heaven in the bottom of alcoholic bottles, finding a dark solace in the many stages of drinking. Yet at the last stage, he discovers an urgent message in this bottle about his son Yari, who is quickly learning words and better observing his father’s troubling behavior. Isaiah realizes he shares a common struggle with his very young son as they are both afraid of growing up. Yet he understands that for his son to better navigate his life, Isaiah needs to change his own. Isaiah’s peace finally comes when he throws up the alcohol out of his system and shifts his focus to raising his son. Wrestling with his personal demons while trying to find the lights of his life that exist in the world is a common theme throughout The Sun’s Tirade.

The production of this track is outstanding and subtly mind-blowing. The baseline sounds dreary and submerged, yet the synths are bouncy and the high-pitched piano keys add an encouraging energy. There is a slight jazz influence layered throughout the track that gives just a twinge of an old-school feel to the new age baseline. The mix creates a truly unique production that evokes a dichotomous set of emotions — hopeful and downtrodden, content and complacent, trippy and grounded, dreary and soothing, melancholy and anthemic — depending on which aspect of the production compels your eardrum and your heart. This instrumentation creates the backdrop of an aging Isaiah lacking direction yet somehow bubbling with purpose. This comforting contradiction reminds us that while our sadness and fear can still feel overwhelmingly palpable, we are always able to make room for attempts of mental clarity and stability.

As he grows older, Isaiah starts to sees the fruits of these attempts.

“Hey mama, mama / I got some dollars for your bills, though (Bills though) / Hey, now I’m the hit and I’m the topic / All that matters I’m Jaleel dog, hey / You know I think the sunshine / Should feel how I feel, how I feel like yeah / I think at night time, the moon should call my phone / Hit my line, I’m here for you / And Eastside shame on us / Rain come on now / I figured the mood / I figure, I figure”

Isaiah experiments with his voice in the first verse, moving from the slurred and forlorn tone of the chorus to an inviting and relaxing sing-songy melodic flow. Isaiah reflects on the generation above him, saying he now has the ability to help his mother out with the bills, who single-handedly raised him in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He recognizes the pain his childhood brought him and his mother, but also makes note of the fact that he’s made it to the big leagues now, and he can start to give back to his mother — who he acknowledges may have her own fears of growing older.

In the tail end of this verse, Isaiah uses celestial and dreamlike imagery to describe his willingness to accept the range of emotions and feelings that life will send his way. It could be the joys and positivity of the sun, the tranquility and mystery of the moon, or the fears and sadness of the rain. He’s ready to welcome all that comes, as he’s “figured the mood” — the aforementioned middle that keeps us from extreme hopelessness and extreme delusion. There is a deep-seated relief that Isaiah reflects on the song, one that is buoyed by long-felt emotional exhaustion to make it to this point. He is tired and withered, but still determined to find peace.

Making it to this point of peace brings Isaiah back to his art.

“Lord forgive ’em for the talcum powder / Alright now stretch it, bless it / Bless it my brother and his record / On the record, for the record / Hey, and play it back ’cause they respect us / Alright now I got the moon and the stars below my feet / So low I speak / So I don’t wake them, praise the Lord that got in me / Who made me spoiled with rotten teeth / So I perform the prophecy”

Isaiah again masterfully transforms his voice in the second verse using abrupt pauses and free-flowing staccato flows that keeps you wired in to his cadence. He expresses spiritual gratitude for being able to recover from his life-threatening addiction. He exudes rare confidence in himself stating he still has the skills to make timeless art.

This confidence is undoubtedly well-deserved as Isaiah’s wordplay here is so understated yet so inventive and creative. He harks back to previous celestial metaphors and utilizes clever double entendres to convey that his son is now the star he must raise and that he hopes to never wake or rattle his baby with the chaos of his own life. He acknowledges he’s not perfect, but he knows that by “perform[ing] the prophecy” of creating music, he is making life better for his next generation.

This feeling is literally brought to life in the song’s music video as Isaiah spends a day at the pier with his young son. As they play games and explore this little world near the water, dollar signs flash above each person’s head — a capitalist sign of their worth and future trajectory. Yari has a couple more dollars above his head than his father does, creating a visual statement that making Yari’s life better is enough to sustain meaning and peace for Isaiah.

“4r Da Squaw” by Isaiah Rashad (Music Video)

Isaiah exposes his fears and joys throughout his debut album, whether it be reminiscing on the struggles of growing up broke (“Free Lunch”), dealing with suicidal ideation (“Rope”), suffering from alcoholism and addiction (“AA”), celebrating his rapid gain in wealth (“A lot”), or beginning his domination of the rap game (“Wat’s Wrong”). His music may give listeners a first impression that his songs are simply a stream-of-consciousness set of non sequiturs. But his ever-changing metaphors, cadences, and production choices narrate an underlying theme that is weaved seamlessly throughout The Sun’s Tirade. Life is about learning how to make internal space for both the positive and the negative emotions, and Isaiah Rashad is a master at capturing this vital aspect of the human condition.

We all fear growing up. Growing out of the raw and thrilling emotions of teenage years, the young passions and idealism of our 20s, the newness and excitement of family life in our 30s and 40s. Each decade brings with it its own sets of joys and fears, and we will naturally become nostalgic as each one comes to an end. With every passing year, we will look forward to becoming wiser and calmer but also have natural fears of becoming more jaded and more weathered by the storms of life.

When we are kids, we think of adults as these magical figures who are perfect and have it figured out. As we grow older, we realize the societal cutoffs between childhood and adulthood are quite arbitrary. Everyone is still figuring life out, everyone gets scared, and everyone still fears growing up. Just like our elders, we will make headway along our timeline, encountering demons, vices, and trauma. But we will also stumble upon joys, values, and connections. All of these experiences will influence us in a profound way. Some days we will be more pessimistic. Some days we will be more optimistic. Most days we will end up somewhere in the middle. As we learn to navigate this middle, two important questions will always guide us forward.

Where will you find your fear?

Where will you find your joy?

Photo Credit: Apple Music

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Mohith Subbarao

Mohith Subbarao

Software Engineer passionate about the intersection of technology and mental healthcare. In my free time, I like to write about art.