Underrated rapper stands ground with hip-hop giants

By Thomas Infante
Reviews Editor

This has been a polarizing year in rap music. On one hand, we have mainstream artists such as Chance The Rapper, Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar releasing some of the most experimental hip-hop projects in years. On the other hand, commercial juggernauts like Drake, Travis Scott and Future have all enjoyed enormous success with recent releases, as well. As a genre, hip-hop is more sonically diverse than ever before. The artists listed above have released some of the best-selling albums this year, yet none of those albums were as interesting as Isaiah Rashad’s debut full-length, “The Sun’s Tirade.”

Rashad is not a name that is immediately recognizable to most. Hailing from Chattanooga, Tenn., 25-year-old Isaiah Rashad McClain has been on the verge of rap stardom since the release of his debut EP “Cilvia” in March 2014. The buzz from the EP even earned him a spot in the 2014 XXL magazine’s “freshman class” of the best up and coming rappers.

Since then, Rashad has been crafting “The Sun’s Tirade,” which was released on Friday, Sept. 2, and may have been the most overlooked release of this year. With a little help from fellow Top Dawg Entertainment artists Lamar and Jay Rock, Rashad covers a range of topics and moods, all while rapping over relatively mellow, jazzy beats and providing lyrical depth for those who listen closely.

Rashad has listed ’90s giants such as Nas, OutKast and Snoop Dogg as his main influences, along with soul artists like James Brown and Smokey Robinson. This is reflected through his music, which is reminiscent of his influences without sounding forced or ripped-off.

Nearly every beat on the album features melodic elements from a real, or at least real-sounding, instrument, like guitar, bass or piano, which accompany the typical 808 drums and heavy bass that is standard to rap music. While they are not particularly complex, they all exude emotional energy and complement Rashad’s overall performance.

The album’s lead single “Free Lunch” showcases Rashad rapping over a mellow guitar and bass-driven beat. Eerie synthesizers chime in the background, syncopated over a drum groove that keeps the song from getting sleepy. The title and chorus of the song reference the free meal that Rashad would get at school as a child growing up in poor economic conditions.

The album boasts many songs that are laid-back and low tempo, but they all sound distinct enough that they don’t get boring. One such track is the opener, “4r Da Squaw,” which features a beat driven by dreamy keyboards and a minimal drum pattern. Rashad’s vocal delivery is fragmented and lethargic.

Another down-tempo song is “Park,” which has one of the most minimal beats on the album. Rashad rightly chooses this song to turn up the energy in his vocal delivery as he raps, “I’m not a savage, I don’t do shit just to do it / This going precise as we planned it / I’m just a bandit / Plus I’m as sharp as a tack or a guillotine right at your family.”

While most of the slower songs on the album are still topically positive, the track “Stuck in the Mud” offers a much more somber performance from Rashad, featuring vocals from SZA on the chorus. The lyrics deal with depression and substance abuse, while the chorus shows how death and depression cannot be avoided, no matter who you are or how much money you have.

“Hoes, dreamers, stuck in the mud / Look at what the reaper got stuck in the mud / Range, Beamers, stuck in the mud / Two 10’s on the inside, stuck in the mud,” the two artists sing over a dark, heavy beat.

Rashad further showcases his range on up-tempo songs, like “Wat’s Wrong” featuring Lamar. The beat is composed of a funky guitar riff, a soulful female background voice and crisp, precise drums. Rashad’s verses showcase his rapping ability and provide more insight into the way he thinks and feels. Lamar’s verse comes between Rashad’s, which makes the song flow like a philosophical conversation that the still rising Rashad is having with an older, more established artist.

For a debut album, “The Sun’s Tirade” perfectly introduces us to Rashad, who will hopefully be making music for many years to come. This album serves as an excellent introduction to his preferred style of production, as well as his versatility as a rapper and lyricist.