Photo courtesy of Top Dawg Entertainment
Chattanooga rapper and former MTSU student Isaiah Rashad’s debut LP was released on Friday. The album, “The Sun’s Tirade,” was released through Top Dawg Entertainment, home of modern hip-hop icons including Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q.
It’s no secret that Kendrick Lamar’s rise to the top of rap mountain in recent years has brought Top Dawg into the wider public eye. Lamar has, perhaps inadvertently, set a colossal precedent for all of his Top Dawg labelmates by releasing two critically acclaimed hip-hop masterpieces in the last five years. When another Top Dawg signee releases a project, it’s quite a challenge to suppress high expectations. Following multiple listens, lyrical read-alongs and unfairly high expectations, “The Sun’s Tirade” resonates as a deeply imperfect but highly promising debut for 25-year-old Rashad.
The lyrics on “The Sun’s Tirade” often reflect the sort of profound intellect that we’ve become accustomed to with Top Dawg artists. Much of the lyrical content revolves around the pressure on Rashad to actually choose a topic and stick with it. However, the lyrics also contain their fair share of drugs, sex and money. It isn’t until the album’s conclusion that one may realize that perhaps the pressure on Rashad isn’t really to choose a topic, but to choose a topic that is considered meaningful. Rashad makes it pretty clear at the album’s conclusion that he loves two things: money and sex When you’ve got superstar labelmates releasing revered albums that center on social injustice, racial oppression, gang violence and political corruption, it’s easy to comprehend how a young artist may feel pressured to rap about something other than counting cash and juvenile sexcapades.
The verse from Kendrick Lamar on the track “Wat’s Wrong” is delivered like an interview to Rashad as Lamar questions him about how he will wield his influence. The verse also sees Lamar deliver one line as this sort of aggressive alter ego, reminding young Rashad that even a seemingly humble superstar like Lamar can still struggle with maintaining humility. Overall, the album’s concept of balancing material value with “deeper meaning” is present, but a bit foggy.
Musically, the album’s instrumentals sound more enticing with each subsequent listen. The instrumental for album’s lead single “Free Lunch” is comprised of ringing synth chords, southern acoustic guitar plucks, and organic drums that sound more like a human than a loop on FL Studio. Rashad varies the inflections of his voice on this Outkast-influenced beat, and the result is one of the more straightforward cuts on the album. Another standout instrumental is that of the sixth track “Park.” The bass is heavy and it drags along in a very melodic fashion. It’s almost as if the producer repurposed the skeleton of a typical, radio-ready banger from the likes of Rae Sremmurd or Fetty Wap and replaced club synths with relaxing, jazzy keys. “Don’t Matter” showcases more unconventional production with upbeat drums reminiscent of Outkast’s “B.O.B.” In general, the production reflects a decent amount of creativity.
However, many of the album’s downfalls stem from some unfortunate pairings of wonderful production with lazy vocal work and vice versa. Many listeners may be excited when they first hear the signature Ear Drummers tag from acclaimed producer Mike Will Made It during the introduction to the song “A Lot.” Unfortunately, Rashad’s vocals sound like they were recorded from a voicemail, and the instrumental completely overpowers Rashad’s otherwise unintelligible mumbling.
As a whole, “The Sun’s Tirade” is not a bad hip-hop album. There are most certainly bad songs on the album, but the majority of the production and the collectively great songs pick up the slack. At times, the vocals can be lazy and forgettable. On other tracks, Rashad’s lyrical prowess and variation of flow truly shine. The album can be conceptually muddy, but it is not void of creativity. Overall, Isaiah Rashad has delivered a solid album with many flaws, reflective a solid rapper with many flaws of his own.