Isaiah Rashad has always offered something a little different in the Top Dawg Entertainment crew.
Not nearly as gangster as ScHoolboy Q and Jay Rock, nor as trippy as Ab-Soul, and certainly not as conceptual as Kendrick Lamar, he's the reserved, introspective one - battling with his thoughts, wearing his emotions on his sleeve. His laid-back drawl suggests there’s serenity on the surface, but dive deeper and there’s plenty of turbulence under it. In his material, you’ll find him laying bare his anxieties and speaking candidly of his addiction to alcohol and pills, while smoky, soulful, gospel- and jazz-inflected beats swirl around him.
Rashad was already living a destructive lifestyle when he released his much-lauded, full-of-promise 2016 debut album The Sun’s Tirade; the heavy touring that followed only pushed him further into it, threatening to swallow him whole. He eventually confided in Top Dawg label boss Anthony Tiffith and soon thereafter checked himself into rehab for a 30-day detox session. It helped, and he began to better himself. Now that potential the TDE crew knew he had – everyone in the game knew he had, for that matter – was something that Rashad was finally in a place to deliver on, and he got to work on his long-awaited second release The House Is Burning.
With a clear head, and anxieties no longer weighing him down, present-day Rashad’s become unshackled, his trademark delivery – more a Southern sing-song than a rap – freer because of it across The House Is Burning. It bounces across the Dirty South-inspired beat of early single “Lay Wit Ya” and the skittering hi-hats and punchy kicks of “True Story” and “9-3 Freestyle”. It lounges all over the smooth grooves of “Claymore”’s buttery R&B – featuring fellow Southern rap talent Smino – and it becomes vaporous, part of the song’s mist, on the duskier, hazier cuts of “Headshots (4r Da Locals)” and the SZA and 6LACK-assisted “Score” – a highlight of the album. Rashad’s able to emanate two very different energies in his material – with an effortless cool – and has the ability to sit on harder, grittier tracks as comfortably and confidently as he does on chilled cuts. It’s what makes him such a potent talent and not only sets him apart from his TDE cohorts, but from many of his contemporaries too.
On album closer “HB2U” we catch Rashad in one of his usual pensive moments – he’s self-examining, posing the questions “have I been cheatin’ myself?” and “what happened to havin’ purpose?” There’s nothing broody about his introspection this time around though – he’s reflecting on things, but through a positive lens, with the knowledge that he’s come through all the hardship for the better. He carries on, asking “if you don’t get yourself straight, who the fuck is you gon’ help, mane?” Well, Rashad’s gotten himself straight, and as a result he’s returned triumphantly from his 5-year absence with his best album yet – a tough ask if your discography already includes the first-rate releases of Cilvia Demo and The Sun’s Tirade. “B*tches say that I’m a cool cat, f*ck that tell them b*tches I’m a Top Dawg” goes the chorus on “RIP Young”. He might just be now.