Tennessean rapper Isaiah Rashad has some destructive tendencies. They were the subject of much of his deceptively laidback flows on his eye-opening 2014 debut, Cilvia Demo. The two years since have not been easy for Rashad: An addiction to Xanax, alcoholism, and the pressures of being his label’s prospective ‘next big thing’ have defined a silent period in which the company, Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), almost dropped Rashad. After this tumultuous time, the 25-year-old returns to the scene with The Sun’s Tirade, released Sept. 1. The sprawling 66 minute release finds Rashad confronting his demons head-on, while earning his place among the TDE elite.
Transplanted from Tennessee into the heart of the US’s west coast scene, Rashad has had a lot of influences to juggle in his music. The Sun’s Tirade uses a lot of standout, funky beats that have defined recent TDE releases, such as Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly and Jay Rock’s 90059. From a production standpoint, this sound is compatible with Rashad’s roots as an Outkast fanboy. There is a lot going on in these tracks, especially in comparison with the beats on Rashad’s debut Cilvia Demo, which featured a lot of synth-heavy, chilled out beats. On The Sun’s Tirade’s best moments, the boom-bap bass, paired with some really groovy, slowed down hooks, almost recall Outkast’s seminal 1998 album, Aquemini. The Sun Tirade’s standout track, “Silkk da Shocka (ft. Syd),” is a clear descendent of the Andre 3000 school of nostalgic rap ballads. Named after a southern rapper of Rashad’s youth, this song couples Rashad’s easy flows with a fantastically soft feature from Odd Future alum Syd (tha Dude) to concoct one of the year’s sweetest hooks.
A particularly sentimental track is “Rope (ft. SiR) // rosegold,” a song in which Rashad expresses his gratitude for still being afforded the opportunity to make music. Rapid fire hi-hats and multiple basslines add urgency to Rashad’s southern drawl, giving credence to stirring bars: “Like nowadays / I barely might know myself / but thank God I found this rope.” He is now able to rise above the chaos that has defined his last two years, and look around with a new lease on life and fame. The lead single, “Free Lunch,”; “Brenda,” an ode to his deceased grandmother, and “Dressed Like Rappers,” a sobering critique of the so-called rap image, are clear standouts. Despite the record’s heavy emotional subject matter, Rashad’s presence brings a much needed dose of vitality into the often monotonous southern rap scene of 2016.
The first side of the album tends toward songs which look back at Rashad’s life through a meditative lens. The second side, however, finds Rashad expending his energy outwards rather than inwards. He spits heavy bars about the people he loves, and the way that modern hip hop has affected predominantly black neighbourhoods such as his own in hometown Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Despite the twist and turns of the album, it never comes off as meandering; in fact, the immersive world of the seemingly reborn protagonist is nothing short of mesmerizing. The album’s title, The Sun’s Tirade, refers to how long the days—and, to extrapolate, the months and years—have felt since Rashad’s move to L.A. in 2014. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but Isaiah has finally emerged to greet the world around him; fans old and new will certainly be glad to see the results.
Sounds like: To Pimp a Butterfly-era Kendrick Lamar (think bass-heavy funk beats coupled with heady introspection); Aquemini-era Outkast (deep South nostalgia)