“Honestly, I got off the Oxymoron tour kinda addicted to xans and an alcoholic, I f***ed up…I f***ed up pretty bad. I almost got dropped like three times”. That’s what Isaiah Rashad told Hot 97 in an interview in August. Confessions don’t get more candid than that.
And life doesn’t get more bleak. The Chattanooga emcee was evidently paddling down some troubled waters between the 2014 release of his excellent EP Cilvia Demo and his now newly released equally excellent debut studio album The Sun’s Tirade.
Rashad was hopelessly addicted to Xanax and alcohol, so much so that he almost got dropped by his label Top Dawg, several times, but it was just the wake-up call that he needed. Instead of letting the dark place he was in consume him completely, he found some resolve, and used the studio as a therapeutic tool to shine some light into that dark place, to peer into the centre of it and learn from it and pick it apart. The bad times you go through in life shape you just as much as the good times in life do, perhaps more so, and Rashad doesn’t shy away from speaking of the vices that caused him to almost lose himself.
In fact, The Sun’s Tirade is littered with it. In the hypnotic back portion of the SZA-assisted “Stuck In The Mud”, he finds a quick fix: “Pop a Xanny, make your problems go away”. In the bass-bumpin’ “BDay” he feels the pull of the bottle: “I can’t help but just pour my drink”.
In the sleek breezy “Tity & Dolla” he gets lean: “I put that codeine in my soup”. And in the pensive mellow “Dressed Like Rappers” he shuts himself off from the world: “I got my pills on, you know I’m real numb”. And there’s plenty more where that came from.
Even though this troubling motif is ever-present on the album, Rashad speaks of it in a retrospective tone. “I am past my self-destruction”, he declares over the rapid-fire production of “Don’t Matter”. It’s by far the most uptempo track he’s ever flowed on, and it’s a fitting stage for his announcement.
While he acknowledges that he isn’t fully recovered yet – “Can I work on myself?” he asks in “Stuck In The Mud” – Rashad knows he’s taking steps in the right direction. Steps not just to better his existence, but for his now 2-year old son as well.
“You pulled a thorn from my side”, Rashad shares in the slow loved-up R&B of “Silkk Da Shocker”, revealing just how much his son’s existence has rescued him. He was born just before Cilvia Demo was released, and the redemptive effect his existence has on Rashad now that the emcee is truly living for his son has been profoundly positive, a positivity that permeates throughout all of …Tirade.
On Cilvia Demo, Rashad was full of angst and anxiety, not comfortable with the rails his life was travelling on, and it showed: the production was thick with haze, a dusky kind of downtempo with choppy beats and reverb-drenched keys featuring prominently. At its core it was broody and tense, Rashad clearly wrestling with inner demons.
On The Sun’s Tirade, he sounds freer, calmer, and smoother, and the sonic palette of the album is varied and dynamic, much of the time more musically accomplished than its predecessor. This gives Rashad more space to explore his multi-faceted delivery, which he does electrifyingly well. Through it all though there’s a laid-back groove, something you can chill on. Rashad says it plainly in “Rope // Rosegold”: “I got the music for the vibers”.
With The Sun’s Tirade, Isaiah Rashad shows, as he did with Cilvia Demo, what sets him apart from many of his peers: he bravely and strikingly keeps his emotions right at the surface, unafraid to lay them all out on the table and systematically stick pins into each and every one.
His debut studio album is a project that acts as a stark reminder of a dark and troubled chapter in his life, but more excitingly, it acts as an encouraging sign as to the heights Isaiah Rashad could hit as one of hip hop’s most unique voices. Isaiah Rashad’s The Sun’s Tirade is out now via Top Dawg Entertainment, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Oli Kuscher