One of the newest members of Top Dawg Entertainment, Isaiah Rashad has quickly identified himself as a beast in the hip hop community with his first album Cilvia Demo. Rashad’s freshman album pulls from so many conflicting influences that it’s nearly impossible to categorize his style. He’s got a west coast vibe in jams like “Brad Jordan” and “R.I.P. Kevin Miller” defined by playful synthesizers and prominent bass. But he also incorporates the quick-witted, complex wordplay of east coast hip hop in songs like “Soliloquy”. What truly makes Rashad’s approach unique is his southern-style story telling talents. He has cited fellow southerner Erykah Badu as one of his biggest influences and references Atlanta’s Outkast numerous times throughout Cilvia Demo. In fact, rumor has it that young Isaiah had aspirations of being a preacher but took an interest in rap after his stepbrother lent him Outkast’s sophomore album, ATLiens.
The transition from preacher to rapper might appear far-fetched, but Rashad bridges the gap by making religion a prominent theme in Cilvia. In the eerie and depressing ballad “Tranquility”, Rashad references Jesus and the Romans, questioning if the Romans should truly be considered evil since Jesus was supposed to be sacrificed by them in the first place. Another track titled “Heavenly Father” is equally as serious, describing Rashad’s long-time struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts.
Though his music reveals a grim childhood, Rashad aka Spottie (pronounced spoh-dee) has a softer side. “West Savannah” is an R&B track that features the vocals of Rashad’s female TDE counterpart, SZA. Curiously named after the Outkast song “West Savannah” that was supposed to be the first album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, Spottie serenades his beau with “Can we fall in love while Southernplayalistic bangin through the night?” SZA makes several appearances throughout the album, supporting Spottie’s aggressive bars with her gypsy-like demeanor. Senior TDE members Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock lend a couple verses in “Shot You Down”, a remix of the single that put the foot in the door for the young Chattanooga native. Despite Rashad poking fun at older rappers teasing “Rocking old flows, corn rows and a beeper”, Jay Rock and especially Schoolboy Q outshine Rashad on his own song. But according to Isaiah, this is exactly what he wants from his competition. In two separate songs, he asks listeners not to group him with the XXL Freshman Class because he feels that his talents don’t compare. Ironically, he did land a spot on the Freshman Class 2014 and later stated that he didn’t want to be categorized with rappers that were “weak” but he considers this year’s class “tight”. It’s interesting that he describes the rappers featured on the past covers as weak considering the fact that fellow TDE members Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock and Ab-soul were all on an XXL freshman class cover and continued to have great success.
Isaiah is no Kanye on the ego scale but modesty doesn’t appear to be on his moral agenda. In his song “Modest” he brags that any form of modesty that he may exhibit is fake and he knows he is the greatest. On the rare occasion that he slacks off lyrically, Rashad’s southern drawl comes off as charming and sometimes even comical. When I heard “Brad Jordan” (named after Houston rapper, Scarface), featuring Michael Da Vinci I had to google the lyrics to learn that “Two do’ boys inna busted aahh rennal” translates to “Two dope boys in a busted ass rental”. Michael Da Vinci adopts Rashad’s steeze for this record, playfully chanting “It juh me and my brother Spottie, bish” before making himself right at home in the beat. This song is one of my personal favorites because of how they effortlessly switch up the flow. The beat fades in and out, struggling to keep up with bars that bite. “R.I.P. Kevin Miller” has a similar feel, with a melody that rhythmically comes and goes while Rashad relentlessly tears it up.
Cilvia Demo is stocked with fast-paced lines containing brilliant metaphors. He intelligently paints a vivid visual of his thought process as he handles heavy issues from growing up fatherless to welcoming his own son into this world and everything in between. Visualize construction workers quickly laying out smooth, wet cement before it hardens to heavy material. This is how I would describe Isaiah Rashad’s style, specifically the fact that he’s creating a path for anyone who needs it. His messages have been received by countless numbers of twenty-something year olds striving for stability yet still lost in the vices of sex, drugs, and hip hop. Rashad’s dark album provides evidence for a bright future for the direction of southern rap.