During the past few years, Top Dawg Entertainment has established itself as the gold standard for hip-hop labels, following in the steps of predecessors such as Aftermath Entertainment and Cash Money Records. By providing a slew of artists who have not only provided the genre with great music, but have also helped define the culture through artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul, it is safe to say they have what it takes to break a new act.
This leads to the newest member of the collective, Chattanooga's own Isaiah Rashad, who with his debut effort "Cilvia Demo" delivers on the promise Top Dawg gave us when they first announced the signing. Rashad, originally known for his video "Gusto," has since transformed himself into one of hip-hop's rising stars since his signing to Top Dawg.
From causing a social media firestorm with his cypher at the BET Hip-Hop Awards to the buzz generated from his newest single "Ronnie Drake," it is clear that through his new album "Cilvia Demo," he is ready to reach the next level.
The album begins with the track "Hereditary" where Rashad talks about everything he learned from his father and also paints a picture of the environment where he was raised. With this short offering, Isaiah gives a preview of some of the major concepts to expect for the rest of the album. "Cilvia" then continues with the next standout track, "R.I.P Kevin Miller," where he allows the audience to pick his brain on multiple levels.
Ever since southern hip-hop began to hit the mainstream, it has been hard for the world to relate to such acts because the environment is so different. Whether it was Outkast's early work not receiving the respect it deserved or just a lack of understanding of 2 Chainz's slang, there has always been a disconnect.
On this track, Rashad allows his new international fan base to get a small taste of what inspired southern hip-hop artists such as himself. With references to legends such as "Like when Percy (aka Master P) was the king, back when Juvie (aka Juvenile) was the great," or to a new age of Southern MC with "Free Guwop (aka Gucci Mane) if he in jail," he shares that in his world, these artists are not just short-lived fads like most perceive them. They are the reason he raps.
The album continues with the aforementioned "Ronnie Drake," which features fellow Top Dawg newcomer SZA. On this track, Rashad changes style from the beginning of the album, switching from rapping about himself to speaking for his culture. With lines such as "Don't call me a n*****, unless you call me my n*****" or "There ain't no getting money on that conscious s****, I just might load up my gat on some survival s****," he is showing off his lyrical ability and at the same time speaking for a lot of the young people who come from a similar background.
Tracks such as this showcase his storytelling ability, a trait that has been a staple in great southern hip-hop.
Probably the best example of the potential Rashad possesses is the 12th track, "Heavenly Father." On this track, Isaiah puts it all together as he shows off both his lyrical and storytelling ability. He becomes his most vulnerable when he asks the people "And if I get my story to the world, I wonder if they'd book me for a show" and his most self-conscious when he says "I smoke too much the problems of twenty-something, I drink too often, there's liquor pouring from the faucet."
Although some might overlook an album such as "Cilvia Demo" because it lacks the instant Top 40 hit, it is definitely a milestone in the career of Isaiah Rashad.
This album proves that beyond all the hype, Rashad has the ability to put together a solid body of work that can touch people on many different fronts. If you continue to make good music, the hit will come. Just look at the recent success of fellow label-mate Kendrick Lamar.
The "Cilvia Demo" is a good indicator we'll be hearing a lot more from Isaiah Rashad in the future.