It didn't take long for TDE freshman phenom Isaiah Rashad to establish himself as one of the top artists to watch this year.
After making the official announcement that he had signed to TDE back in September 2013, the Chatanooga, Tenn.-based MC wasted no time generating a buzz and warming up to his new adopted city, L.A., with his first single, "Shot U Down," serving as a warning to inauthentic rappers while also showcasing Rashad's ability to break free of being pigeonholed to a southern sound.
Now, on his debut EP Cilvia Demo, it's still evident that the TDE crew is where he gets his love, but he remains firm in his roots.
Kendrick Lamar's influence, for example, is most clearly rubbing off on the young gun who, like K. Dot, frequently uses contrasting harmonies and laid back instrumentals to give songs an extra layer of depth, like on "Webbie Flow," which gives the listener a healthy idea of what Rashad is capable of.
"I'm rapping like Kool, 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 b---h, but I'm cool/I think I'm blessed now, I only stress about the stress now, since I'm fresh now," he spits.
Rashad then continues to rock rugged rhymes over atypical production on songs like the title track, "Cilvia Demo," which utilizes live instrumentation to give it a sound reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest, providing Rashad the perfect platform to drop one of his most impressive flows. "The hung soul, a rapper goes rapping those/Wrapping woes, Defying foes, lying toes, weapons on tuck/Malcolm, they tackle for belief in the movement/But Rashad got applause for releasing the music."
The Outkast influenced "West Savannah," which features TDE songstress SZA, is another one that highlights the Tennessee native's regional limitlessness.
The mostly mellow album gets a good jolt from its first single "Soliloquy," which features standout production by FARHOT. Pounding bass, subtle keys and intelligent mixing allow the song to appeal to East and West Coast fans alike, while Rashad preemptively stakes his claim on the freshman class with bars like, "Immaculate, this scatter rapping, no passing my blunt/Don't you put me on freshman covers, I'm posing with lunch/Think they worthy of presence presently passing 'em up."
Not neglecting his place in the southern rap legacy, however, Rashad takes the standout track, "R.I.P. Kevin Miller" and gives the old Master P hit "Weed & Money" the TDE treatment, as he raps about trying to keep his sanity while chasing his goals. He then takes it to Texas with another one of Cilvia Demo's high points, the Scarface ode "Brad Jordan." Rashad is at his fiery best on these songs.
While Cilvia Demo was mostly successful in walking a fine line between toned down and turnt up, it sometimes failed to gain traction, such as on the anti-climactic single "Ronnie Drake," and the aptly titled "Tranquility," which features engaging lyrics but all-in-all never really reached that addictive precipice that great songs do. But Rashad makes it clear that he can connect with a broad audience while staying true to the core fans that helped put his name on TDE's radar. Expectations are lofty when you're coming out on the heels of Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolBoy Q, Jay Rock and Ab-Soul. He's up to the challenge.
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(Photo: Top Dawg Entertainment)