Top Dawg Entertainment has become a household name over the past couple of years because of their premiere West Coast artists, and from that time up until mid-2012, it looked like there wasn’t going to be a major change in their scheme, especially when they partnered up with Interscope Records to release ¾ of Black Hippy’s debut albums (until Jay Rock eventually solidified it for the whole crew). So when it was announced that TDE had in fact signed 2 new artists, it was a little bit of a shock because the question (in my head) was: “why disrupt the continuity of building the label?” I know that each artist had been ‘established’, but there was still a growing process to be had. Well, given the fact that I’m on the outside looking in, and the fact that they haven’t failed at lack of accomplishments thus far, I could definitely trust their judgement to see what artists they were going to introduce to their team. On one hand, there’s SZA for their R&B representation (in no way is she a replacement to the late Alori Joh; rather her own unique entity), and then you have a Southern flavour with Chattanooga, Tennessee’s own, Isaiah Rashad. Now, you have your various styles of Southern rappers: You’ve got Atlanta, Mississippi, Houston, and Miami that have the most notable representatives that come to mind when you think of ‘Southern Hip Hop’, and those usually have the laid back and relaxed flows (sort of like their lifestyles), whereas the North is more brash and aggressive (like the winters that they unfortunately have to endure), and listening to Isaiah the first time around, you definitely get the Southern sound, and there hasn’t been a whole lot of rappers to come out of Tennessee, unless you look at the likes of Young Buck and Three Six Mafia (alright, that’s some). Isaiah definitely has that flow that’s more relaxing, and the production around him helps emphasize his nature. That was brought to my attention when I first listened to Welcome to The Game (his debut mixtape), and from there, I got a glimpse of just what kind of style he can bring to the table so he doesn’t have to be in the discussion of ‘which Black Hippy member does Isaiah sound like?’ Those conversations may very well have already begun, but I don’t feel that there’s a real connection with his style in comparison to the others on the label.
For people who were asking who ‘Cilvia’ is, it happens to be his old car – a beat up Honda Civic where he drew his inspiration from (watching interviews helps sometimes with useful information), and what you also get from Isaiah is a humble guy who’s all about his family (and he has a son) and also the region from where he comes from. From his first mixtape, and the early snippets of what was released prior to the full album: production, his story (including many references of his father), and the Southern influence would play a big part into the delivery of this project, and I was very excited to hear it in full.
The art of storytelling is one that Hip Hop has been known for with their standout rappers providing consistency when it came to expressing their lives through their rhymes. Now, many people may have their own ideals as to what an actual storyteller is, but there’s no denying that Isaiah has a story to be told, and it starts off on Hereditary, where he looks at his own flaws and that they’ve been (in a way) passed down from his father because of the treatment he received when he was a child. The in-and-out of his life situation is one that I can pinpoint my life into as well in some degree, so I can get the connection right off the bat.
“My daddy taught me how to drink my pain away
My daddy taught me how to lease somebody
My daddy taught me how to smoke my loaf and go
My daddy taught me you don’t need nobody”
There’s a lot of truth when it’s said that children often pick up the bad habits of their parents just through experience. That can happen when there’s no stability, and I feel like the reason why Black men are so looked down upon and others feel like there’s no sense of direction is because, the majority of Black men (at least the ones that I know), don’t have a lot of strong father figures in their lives to help them become better men in the future. A Mother can only do so much to raise their sons and steer them in the right directions, but at the end of the day, the effects of no Father in a son’s life do start to show, and you end up carrying that on for future generations (unless somewhere down the line, common sense kicks in). For an intro so short, it did strike meaning right off the bat (Habits & Contradictions, you could say).
I didn’t know what to exactly think about Webbie Flow (U Like) when I saw the tracklist, other than the fact that he was probably going to use Webbie’s actually rapping style of flow. Webbie is a Southern rapper who was pretty popular back when he and Lil Boosie were starting out, but I don’t listen to either of them as much as the next person, so I may have got all of that messed up. It’s definitely an unorthodox flow that he used on the beat, because the off-beat type of style isn’t one that many can pull off, but he had the ability to throw double entendres in there to make it rewarding in the end, and this beat was really groovy to get into. I don’t understand why it was only one verse, but between the hook and the overall vibe of the song itself, I wasn’t upset at the fact that it was.
“Inspire all my local jokers who be quitting that school
They be hating that job, I was hating that too
I was flipping your burger high as a bitch, but I’m cool
I think I’m blessed now
I only stress about the stress now since I’m fresh now”
It’s like a rag to riches story that we occasionally see from rappers coming up, over and over again, but I think there’s a bigger connection when it’s someone from your own generation (he was born in ’91) who’s giving their own views that you can pinpoint to your own experiences, which is something that can reflect with a lot of listeners although they prefer hearing it from the older veterans in the game (which is understandable). One of Isaiah’s influences on his music comes from Outkast (there’s evidence on his mixtape), so to channel in his inner early Big Boi/Andre 3000 style, that’s something to look out for.
The title track of the EP, Cilvia Demo, gives you a little bit more perspective as to who Isaiah is and what he’s about. Common themes that reverberate throughout the album are Women and Alcohol, and he highlights them here on a (finally) two-verse track.
“Niggas steppin’ in the swimming pool, invincible
Women I pursue get lost in this”
Since his first tape, he has had subtle references to other TDE artists in his lines. For instance, on Hii (Fuck Love), he starts off the track by saying you can have all my shine, I’ll give you my light (which has been said on Kendrick’s ADHD & Ab-Soul’s Illuminate), so if that’s not a precursor to paying respect to the people in your camp, I don’t know what is. He does it here by referencing Kendrick’s Swimming Pools song, and it describes just the type of women he likes – girls who love alcohol essentially just as much as he does. How this tracks relates to the theme of the song is basically retelling his tales of being just a young kid doing what young kids do, and during the time he was really starting to ‘come up’, there were little reminders of his past that held him in check. Right at the beginning where he’s mimicking a police officer calling into dispatch about a Cadillac, but laughs because it isn’t a Cadillac at all, shows that he’s still fresh in the game but clearly hasn’t even come close to making himself look the part of someone with a bright future and success (the underdog that’s overlooked).
Isaiah likes to use names for a lot of his titles to pay homage to Southern rappers or someone(s) who have affiliations with them. RIP Kevin Miller is one of those examples, as Kevin Miller was the slain brother of Percy Miller, otherwise known as Master P. I’m not going to lie, I fell in love with this beat from the get go, and Isaiah’s flow & delivery got me hyped, especially in the beginning with the repetitive hook ‘y’all live for bitches and blunts, we live for weed and money’, and what I got from that was pretty simple when you break it down (no pun). Weed & Money are essential or the Blunts & Bitches don’t come with them; you need the necessities in order to be rewarded, so that’s why it’s all about the fundamental groundwork firsthand…then you’ll be able to get what you want. I might have been the only person to think this, but he sounded like Young Jeezy because of his vocals (not to mention the ongoing ad-libs in the background like Jeezy has been notably recognized for), and he also continued to pay homage to his Southern influences like Outkast, Juvenile, and Master P (for obvious reasons). What I’ve noticed through listening to the album thus far, is the fact that in every track, no matter what style or pace it’s in, he’s always saying something that’s concrete as you get more of a perspective on Chattanooga. There’s substance that is appreciated, and it was what I first noticed even when you listen to Welcome to the Game. It’s refreshing to hear for a change.
Ronnie Drake is the first of many songs that I know will feature both new TDE signees (the other being SZA), and this was the first song to be released prior to the full EP, and it got a lot of acknowledgement for being a similar vibe if it was a Big Boi & Erykah Badu track. I can say that’s a little bit of a reach for comparisons, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t get what they’re coming from. The first line: “don’t call me a nigga, unless you call me my nigga” is a line from a song called Khaki on Welcome to the Game, and obviously that word carries its own controversy as to who can say it, and how it’s determined that it’s being used in the ‘right way’ (it’s a generational thing). Many people use the word loosely who aren’t even Black, but that’s not the sole purpose of the song here. This songs calls to appreciate everyone who’s really less than perfect in the eyes of society, because he just happens to be a part of those people. Hustlers, Dealers, Pimps, Hos, Bros, Strippers, Bitches, Niggas; that’s what he knows, and those are his people.
Sometimes I wonder why we killers, why they killing us
I think we only wear a grill because they grilling us
Or how they feeling us, gotta look real and tough
Gotta keep your hands in the cart, know you stealing stuff
Came a long way from a boat and an auction
Now we got names and a vote, then a coffin
Ain’t shit change but the coast we adopted
Little black children you can call me that nigga, nigga
I’m sure that a lot of people have their own views on what it’s like to be Black in society. I’m on the outside looking in, because racial division isn’t that ‘in-your-face’ in Canada like it is in certain parts of The United States, but that’s not to say that it’s not all the way absent. In these few lines, Isaiah paints the contrast between what Blacks are looked at now, compared to what they used to be not even half a millennium ago. There is still a bit of fear that resonates in society and Black people (or African-American, to be politically correct) are treated different from the rest because of that. Why? No one exactly knows the answers to that, but here they are doing the things that they do (which aren’t always all the way legal), because of the fact that historically, they were looked down upon. Now, does it help that we continue to feed into that stereotype in order to gain a least a sense of total respect throughout? Not at all, but at least the past isn’t forgotten and won’t be by our current storytellers letting the future generations know what it is. I think more people, as they listen to him more often, will start to gravitate and appreciate just what Isaiah is saying because he does have conscious rhymes on his tracks, but they don’t sound ‘preachy’ like many would consider Talib Kweli or Mos Def to be (maybe it’s the accent, who knows). All I know is that he makes good music and you can credit that to the rappers he looked up to.
Just like that, another collaboration with these two kids emerges with West Savannah which is right off the bat a tribute to Outkast, and if that wasn’t obvious enough, then the first verse should become clearer.
Now can we fall in love while
Southernplayalistic banging through the night
Southernplayalisticcadillacmuzik (or in this case, Southernplayalistic for short) is the name of Outkast’s first album (and one great song, might I add), and you get the impression that this is a different kind of love song that the everyday true 90s Hip Hop head would appreciate (because I know somewhere out there, a couple wants to be making a baby to some ATCQ bumping in the tape deck just for the hell of it). I’m telling you, the production is something else, man. The couple is young and in love, which many people wouldn’t consider ‘real love’ (which I think is stupid, because age shouldn’t be a factor; if you’re in love, you’re in love). The track isn’t that long, but the vibe is definitely one that has a ton of replay value with it because of the beat alone, and that’s been the story of the whole album up to this point, and I didn’t see that changing at all.
A Soliloquy is defined as: an act of speaking one’s thoughts aloud when by oneself or regardless of any hearers. Short version: I’m speaking out loud of just what I feel and what I’m thinking at random, and if you don’t like it, oh well. I knew I’ve seen the word before, but it’s been almost 10 years since I took a drama class, so obviously it wasn’t going to be stuck in my vocabulary for a long period of time for a word to just randomly remember what it’s defined as, but the short version of the word is ‘solo’, so that should tell you everything you need to know about what Isaiah was dropping. This song vividly reminded me of Kendrick’s R.O.T.C (Right On Time Conscious), because of that same mindset that he approached the track with – just him and his thoughts getting out there. What you get on this track is a bunch of questions on logic, ideologies and overall random thoughts.
“Belly full of smog and ciggys just make me nauseous
Wonder how the fuck you let a nigga make you cautious
But you jamming out to fucking Marilyn and Ozzy shit”
This was probably my favourite part of the song, because I often think about how and why Black people are continually seen as threats as if they’re the ones who are more ‘intimidating’ when they’re outnumbered by white people in a general sense. It’s something that people need to get over, to be quite honest. The stain of obscurity on Black people just needs to end; that’s wishful thinking, but it’s clearly still a factor in a society that should ‘know better’ especially through historical and continued events. Through pop culture references like Breaking Bad, and the ever controversial Ponzi scheme, there’s a lot going on this mind that felt the need to be expressed, and he did it in raw fashion.
Tranquility on the other hand was more serene and solemn, but still carried meaning (I sound like a broken record, but it’s the truth). Tranquility is the state of being calm, which explains the demeanor in Isaiah’s approach on this song, and the message coming forth has a lot to do with biblical, historical, and even family references (his son). The contrast of Brutus and Caesar were interesting to me because where Caesar was the man of the people, he was betrayed by his own people (well, his number 2- Brutus). In the hook, the first line is “thank God for the shooter” because as we’re all taught, there’s a reaction to every action, and there are blessings that come from unfortunate events. It’s such a weird concept to understand, but throughout the song he keeps referencing to Jesus & Judas and how the ones you least expect can stab you in the back, but there’s something good (eventually) that came from that, and where there’s one bad apple in the bunch, a good one rises, and I feel like Isaiah is that one who wants to change the stigma on how people perceive rappers who don’t exactly come from welcoming backgrounds.
It must be a black people thing, but for the ones who do smoke cigarettes, they love Newports, and they contain Menthol, and I guess that satisfies their taste for it? I don’t know; I don’t smoke. When people get stressed, cigarettes serve as the reliever, and it makes sense that this track has a cigarette background seeing as both he and Jean Deaux (the woman singing on the hook) are stressing out, so to vent it out on the track is the equivalent of (oh, I don’t know) smoking a cigarette perhaps. It’s like the opposite of West Savannah where you had the falling in love stage, and then here it is with some of the problematic situations that couples go through and as an individual, Isaiah has his share of stresses that only substances can help resolve.
Modest definitely came with that bounce and it plays in part to the fact that, although he is signed with TDE, it’s not like he all of a sudden became large and popular with a stack of money to his name (although that’s the objective), but he still has to deal with many issues that he came in with from before, although he has benefits that he can take advantage of now because he’s becoming known on the Hip Hop horizon.
“I got stress for days, picture you go home and you that nigga
But can’t pay your bill, you can’t buy no diapers for your little one
Don’t you pay for thrill, child support is like a check away
How you chill with Kendrick? Do you smoke with Q and Dr. Dre?”
It’s really about having an entire balancing act when it comes to your job and how you’re supposed to manage continuing to make sure that you can provide for necessities. He also not shy about his loyalty to the South and the fact that they get looked down on like people from all over didn’t embrace them years ago when groups like Outkast, Geto Boys, UGK, Goodie Mob (I can go on forever) were making good music for all to listen to.
“It’s funny how they blame the south when they weak shit don’t blow up
We came with all the funk while niggas act like they don’t know us”
Heavenly Father is one of the favourites from a bunch of people I’ve spoke to when it comes to what tracks they felt the most, and I can understand why that would be. This feels like a very Big K.R.I.T type of song in a Southern Gospel type of atmosphere (I mean, the organ plays a part in my feelings for that). The growth of a new artist (or anyone, for that matter) who’s about to embark on a journey is challenging especially when you don’t exactly have a sense of direction on where to go; hoping and praying that you make the right decisions so you can continue to be something big in the future.
“And daddy why you call me while you drunk?
And why you never love me when I need it
And I don’t wanna be like you no more
And I been tryna cope I’m getting weak”
The song’s title has a double meaning because there’s the obvious Heavenly Father (God), and then there’s his father who went missing in his life that not only left him incomplete, but also inspired & motivated him to be a better man although it’s hard for him to move beyond his absence. It’s a sad cautionary tale that continues to be written into the lives of young men – hopefully the generations of the future can do better to provide better examples. In three verses, you get honesty of his feelings and openness of his flaws that he knows he has but doesn’t care (“I’ll never change, this is Jay every day” always comes to mind in these circumstances), because he’s out to represent himself the best way that he can – true and real (or ‘trill’).
I’m not even going to lie, I’ve played Banana more than any other song on this album, and that’s not to take away the great songs that he’s made on thus far, but from the beat, hook, and the 2nd verse alone, it sent me chills to the point where it became addicting to listen to. Now, although I don’t really know as to why the song is called ‘Banana’, I can only think of a Banana peel, and the fact that one line says he’s been ‘slippin a bit’, which would refer to slipping on a banana peel, so the conclusion would be that he’s ‘trippin’. It would make sense, if that’s the true meaning of it, but the reason why I liked this song so much was because of the build up of intensity in the 2nd verse where it’s like you can feel the desperation coming through like he’s going to do whatever it takes to take what’s yours for his own benefit (he’s got a son to feed you know), and as it starts to build up towards the end, it just grabbed me more than the other tracks (although I’m still trying to figure out what’s being said on the hook, because both voices seem to be saying different things, to it really isn’t clear).
“You niggas can’t fuck with my verses
See they really don’t think that I’m bout this
Don’t make me come run in your houses
We know where your mamma your dad lives”
Remember when I was talking about the fact that Isaiah likes to use names often to reference Southern Rappers that he looked up to? Well Brad Jordan happens to be the rapper Scarface (also known as Face Mob), and when I first heard this song, it didn’t grab me that much. I felt that it was alright; the Texas inspired beat and flow were probably what didn’t draw me towards liking it to begin with, but it wasn’t a track overall that I thought highly of over the first few listens (perhaps it’ll sound better has a Chopped & Screwed remix), but the beat rides well with that significant bounce, so it definitely has growth potential on my end (Michael da Vinci put in a good verse – it almost sounded just like Isaiah, so I was confused for a bit).
Now, this was a surprising move for me, to put the I Shot You Down (Remix) on the EP; not because the track isn’t good, but because ScHoolboy Q’s verse isn’t all the way accurate, given the fact that he said his album would be dropping in January, when in fact it’s dropping in February, closer to March. Besides that little dent, the remix to one of the songs that a lot of people heard Isaiah Rashad spit for the first time is a good one, and it was great to hear a new Jay Rock verse because people seem to leave him on the backburner when it comes to Black Hippy, but with a new album on the way, I’m sure people will wake up yet again. To have a couple of members of Black Hippy on this track is a good stepping stone for Isaiah to carry with him although he doesn’t necessarily need the features of the bigger names in the group to get out there, because he can clearly hold his own, with what has been displayed on the EP as a whole.
Humble beginnings served as the premise for the debut of Isaiah Rashad, given the fact that a broken down Honda Civic and a family background gave him the inspiration to knock out quite the entrance for what looks (and hopes) to be a promising rap career. Now, I definitely had my doubts as to if a Southern Rapper would be able to hold their own in a crew that is primarily West Coast, but I think that the contrast of flow, delivery and production serves well in adding more links to just what Top Dawg is doing as a brand in terms of getting the purest product out there that’s raw, intuitive and real to the point where it’s something that the masses can enjoy. I mean, that’s how they’ve been able to attain so much popularity in the first place. There’s no ceiling when it comes to the opportunity and potential that Isaiah has, and if this is just the first of what we’re hearing, I’m pretty damn excited to hear what else is in store. But for now, this is my opinion, this is my review
That’s My Word & It STiXX