“I was dead and now I’m alive.”
Top Dawg Entertainment is by far the most talented label to emerge from hip-hop in recency. From the start of its formation, its roster has boasted nothing but talent and high expectations, and second-generation signee Isaiah Rashad is no exception.
As someone who has grown a notorious reputation for his inactivity in the game, Isaiah’s steady – yet necessary – re-emergence has built a lot of hype, especially among his core fanbase. With almost five years of absence to his name, can we as consumers even predict his musical direction? This post aims to lay down what to expect from his upcoming third studio album, The House Is Burning, which already shows signs of growth in its implicatory phase.
“I feel like dropping classics, like the rucker”
Isaiah Rashad’s early music is reminiscent of his roots; southern and muddy, which provided a great contrast to the otherwise west coast-dominant stature of TDE at the time. His debut project Cilvia Demo is a perfect showcase of this, with a lo-fi, laidback sound complementing his insightful writing game.
Sophomore album The Sun’s Tirade built upon this with an even dreamier, straight-up psychedelic approach that solidified Rashad as a face of “vibe music” in hip-hop. Between these two modern masterpieces, Rashad had already become rooted in a signature sound, giving him a remarkable artistry.
However, The House Is Burning cannot be trusted with keeping up this pattern; a lot has changed in Rashad’s life since 2016, and the sound is going to be representative of his change in outlook and gained experience. As expressed in his interview with The Fader, “I just wanted this shit to sound fun.” This is already a quick implication of a shift in style, which may incorporate more fast-paced – and potentially Southern – type songs that will stick out like a sore thumb in his catalogue.
“I’m a cold piece of work”
If we have one indicator of that high-energy style entering the ring, it’s his recent single “Lay Wit Ya”. Built around a tributary Three 6 Mafia sample, the song takes listeners to the old-school realm of Memphis rap and crunk music, featuring a choppier flow and modernized dirty south beat.
This provides us with the first strong expectation to hold: that The House of Burning will structure its sound around Rashad’s southern influences.
Cilvia Demo already did this to a certain degree, featuring a flow and atmosphere that screamed Tennessee; but even with this considered, it often leaned toward a boom bap-based, jazzier nature that would have you assume his biggest influences are the likes of A Tribe Called Quest. And even though that is true (refer to his track “Webbie Flow”), we’re already seeing his true musical forefathers – such as UGK or Outkast – print their impact on this upcoming record.
“Look at what that reaper got you”
Rashad’s music has always been rooted in themes of mental health lyrically, from the first verse of his debut (“My daddy taught me how to drink my pain away” / “My daddy taught me how to leave somebody”). The Sun’s Tirade is notable for masking its rather dark subject matter with a comforting feeling of vibe, when in reality it is one of the most disturbing albums of its time.
However, in this five-year hiatus, Rashad has experienced a lot. From almost losing everything to embarking on a path to happiness and control, it is almost guaranteed that The House Is Burning will most definitely theme itself around mental health; perhaps to the most intense degree of his career.
In his Fader interview, he himself explained the motif of this project; “When your house is on fire, are you going to go into that bitch to get the personal possessions, or are you just going to trust in yourself and in God that you’re going to be able to bounce back?” This quote holds an implication of some focus on his growth as a person and understanding of how life can change.
We may be experiencing yet another album that sounds bright on the outside, but holds some weight under it all.
So how will it match up against the back catalogue?
Considering Isaiah Rashad’s previous two albums are both widely acclaimed and perhaps cult classics – in addition to the fact that we have not gotten one in half a decade – The House Is Burning has a lot to prove.
Off his current artistic direction, it can be assumed that we will continue to get digestible, easy-on-the-ears tracks with a masked approach to meaningful writing. The appeal of this album will surely be listener-dependent; given that Rashad seems to be in tune with the south’s essence, the fans of that style are bound to appreciate this album more; perhaps the Cilvia Demo lovers. For The Sun’s Tirade diehards, it’s not as much of a given.
What we all truly know, though, is that we’re in for not only a great artist’s legendary comeback, but proof of his high-quality career as well. Sometimes less is more, and Rashad is a go-to example of that.