Life is full of experiences. How we adjust and react to these experiences is how we grow as individuals. For Chattanooga rapper Isaiah Rashad, these experiences are coming fast and rapidly at a very early point in his young life. Zay went from having basically no discography at all whatsoever, to being signed to one of the strongest independent hip-hop labels in the country (Top Dawg Entertainment), amongst successful rappers such as Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q. The label has been steadily releasing projects since the beginning of this year and now appears to be kicking it into high gear with the release of Isaiah’s debut album, The Sun’s Tirade (with Ab-Soul’s project seemingly right around the corner). Cilvia Demo, Zay’s debut EP that dropped in 2014, was a very revealing project that garnered him a decent following. At the end of the day, Isaiah makes very relatable music, which is why I believe he has the potential to reach a very wide audience. He comes off as your average everyday dude who is simply rolling with the punches of life. Making the journey from Chattanooga to Los Angeles has certainly taken a toll on Rashad’s everyday life, and is very apparent on this project. What results is a very interesting body of work that you can practically put on at anytime of the day and vibe to.
One thing Rashad continues to do well on this project is being subtly conscious. Off first listen, one may miss the vast emotion that is actually being reflected in his music. The song “Wat’s Wrong”, for example, is a tune that may initially come off as smooth joyride that you can bump in your car. In reality, Zay is expressing his homesickness for his city of Chattanooga and his methods of coping with this issue. A line like “…and LA hoes, if that ain’t rolled up, I ain’t go, I ain’t home, I ain’t them, I ain’t them…” clearly depicts Rashad’s mind-state. Like I said earlier, a lot of this album’s lyrical content and emotion stem from his transition to LA. It is likely that this issue also contributed to his xanax addiction that reportedly delayed album, and even almost got him dropped from the label. This particular issue is represented clearly on the intro “where u at?” that features TDE President Dave Free complaining to Zay about not having his project ready. Other tidbits of Rashad’s homesickness are scattered across the album in lines such as “Back-back, to the back-back, to the frozens and the BBs” and “I just like a freak hoe for the nostalgia.” His xanax addiction is also represented clearly on the second half of the emotional “Stuck in the Mud”, where Zay quite literally states “Pop a xanny, make your problems go away.”
Perhaps my favorite aspect of this project is the production, an aspect that was also very good on Cilvia Demo. Names on the production list vary, but familiar names pop up a few times such as J.LBS, D.Sanders, The Antydote, and Crooklin. The majority of these beats are very hazy and laid back, and are laced with elements of live instrumentation. They do an excellent job of capturing the “Southern bounce” that has become a trademark of Rashad’s music. My favorites in particular are “Park” and “Bday”. “Park” is a straight banger that incorporates a melodic piano loop throughout, while “Bday” is a much more laid back track that uses a very intoxicating xylophone loop. Both tracks are enhanced further with Rashad’s excellent flow. “Bday”, in particular, has a very relaxing, yet bouncy, flow. West Coast MC, Kari Faux, is also featured on the back end of this track and contributes nicely.
This album can easily be misinterpreted as a lazy project. While some songs certainly lack lyrical energy where they should (ex. “A lot”), it doesn’t stop the album from being, what is in my opinion, a success for Rashad. As I said earlier, his tone of voice, and sometimes his flow, can throw a listener off the path of interpretation. After multiple listens, I came to a conclusion similar to the one I had after listening to Cilvia Demo: Zay is a young kid trying to find his purpose. A lot of people will resonate with this dilemma because many people, including myself, are currently experiencing it. The track, “4r Da Squaw”, is perhaps the best representation of this on the album. Despite expressing his own fears of growing up, he realizes the financial opportunity in music laid out before him. These themes of growing up and realizing your potential are expressed quite beautifully on this track and even come off as inspirational.
This is certainly an album for “the vibers”, as Rashad puts it. And to many, that is exactly what this album will be: an album to vibe to. However, there were emotional elements of this album that resonated with me, and will certainly resonate with others. For this reason, The Sun’s Tirade succeeded in not only in being a smooth, relaxing album, but also one that connects with my generation of hip-hop fans.