Release Date: Sep 2, 2016
Record label: Top Dawg
Aside from two phenomenal stand-alone singles in “Nelly” and “Smile”, 25-year-old Isaiah Rashad has been awfully silent in the two short years since he released his debut album - Cilvia Demo - for Top Dawg Entertainment (home to Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q et al). Initially, a lot of people speculated that he had just faded into obscurity – an easy trap for an upcoming rapper to fall into after a tough-to-beat release – but it turns out that he was recovering from addictions to alcohol and Xanax that had escalated during his worldwide tour with his labelmate ScHoolboy Q in 2014. Rashad’s recent struggles naturally loom over his new album, The Sun’s Tirade, thus making it a much more personal release than Clivia Demo; addiction’s a life-long battle, and it’s on Rashad’s mind throughout – he even taunts himself on the seven-minute epic “Stuck in the Mud” to cave in and “pop a Xanny, make your problems go away”.
Chattanooga MC Isaiah Rashad wears his anxieties. They bleed through the rap revelry in verse, as if they could consume him at any moment. Is he about to stunt, or is he about to self-destruct? It makes his songs more like inkblots in a Rorschach test: What you see in them may depend on where you currently are on the spectrum—longing, laboring, or lost.
Whether Cilvia: Demo was viewed as an EP or an album, as a mixtape or an actual demonstration recording, there was a clear consensus that the release positioned Isaiah Rashad as a significant artist on the way up. The rapper subsequently battled substance abuse, depression, isolation, and a resulting creative paralysis that found his relationship with the Top Dawg label hanging by a thread. Not too proud to conceal struggles that escalated and developed in the wake of the acclaim, Rashad starts The Sun's Tirade, issued 31 months after Cilvia, with a voicemail -- an exasperated ultimatum -- from TDE's Dave Free.
Leaving home is hard, but Isaiah Rashad is doing it — or at least he’s in the process of it. After his inaugural release, Cilvia Demo, on TDE in Winter 2014, Tennessee’s scrip-popping poet has laid low in a state of limbo much to the chagrin of his following. The Volunteer’s freshman effort showcased a well-versed repertoire mature for his age, and while Cilvia’s replay value rings true, Zay’s catalogue has suffered through the same waiting game as the rest of the Top Dawg breed.
Isaiah Rashad could easily be a southern rap revivalist: He’s from Chattanooga, he’s rapped over “Elevators”, a slew of his songs allude to southern rappers (“Nelly”, “RIP Kevin Miller”, “Webbie Flow”), and he loved his first car enough to name his debut EP after it. Package these traits together and leave them in the right blogger’s inbox, and the car drives itself. Luckily, Rashad insists on keeping his hands on the wheel.
Anyone who's been anywhere near me since Isaiah Rashad's Cilvia Demo came out has either heard me go on about it or been subjected to repeated playings of it. It was a cult hit that didn't seem to reach the superstar status many felt it deserved, especially being released on TDE, the label that's home to giants like Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q. It also fell into that modern hip-hop trap of being very difficult to define: I've heard it variously described as an album, a mixtape and an EP.
Years from now, when Isaiah Rashad's catalogue is more expansive, The Sun's Tirade will not stand out as his best. But after nearly three years of maddening silence, during which the Chattanooga, TN emcee battled addictions to drugs and alcohol that threatened to extinguish his budding career, his latest effort is a moderate redemption. Tempered and much more subdued than his masterful 2014 EP, Cilvia Demo, The Sun's Tirade highlights all of the winsome qualities that set the TDE signee apart from his powerhouse labelmates.
There is a high standard held by fans for T.D.E. projects. This is understandable in many regards, particularly when you look at the label’s track record of solid albums such as Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, To Pimp A Butterfly, Oxymoron, 90059 and Control System. Artists like Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy, Jay Rock and Ab-Soul are not in any way easy acts to follow.
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.
Perhaps we hold Isaiah Rashad to a higher standard simply because it’s easy to compare him to the already established bigger brothers of TDE, yet all of the Black Hippy crew had slow starts too—even Kendrick had to make (O)verly (D)edicated before he got to Section. 80, and while that one might’ve been the best or second-best hip-hop release of 2011, it wasn’t perfect. But it does not help that TDE seems to demand their artists deliver albums that “optimize” the available space of the compact disc: the worst example was Ab-Soul’s clueless These Days… and only Jay Rock’s 90059 seems to be exception so far.