Chattanooga, Tennessee is boring as shit. Everything about the city is rural, unless you’re looking to gain steady employment inside the ivory tower of companies like Sprint of Hardee’s. It’s a city built on traditional values and no nonsense — look no further than the Muskogean phrase from which the city’s name was derived, which literally translates to “rock dwelling.” But for all of its sturdiness and other rock-like qualities, Chattanooga is not the sort of place for someone who craves change.
Since he entered the 10th grade, Isaiah Rashad’s life hasn’t stayed the same for longer than two months at a time. He had had a penchant for music since he grew up listening to Frankie Beverly, but in the tenth grade he discovered his other passion: women. After that, his life was in a constant state of tumult due to this new passion getting in the way of him keeping the same job or residence for too long. New girls meant plotting new adventures in order to see them, which meant less time spent going to class or punctually showing up for work. His musical inclination was something he pursued in his spare time, uploading freestyles over MF Doom and Flying Lotus beats to his Soundcloud and recording half-finished songs with childhood friends turned producers: The Antydote, D.Sanders and Chris Calor. But eventually, Isaiah’s distracting sexual misadventures caught up with him and he found himself sleeping on friend’s couches, a newborn child in his arms and a job at Sprint that he knew wouldn’t last.
"I like stuff happening in my life, I like change. Because that's how my life has always been, there needs to be something happening all the time.” Isaiah Rashad, now 22, managed to make it out of what could have been a very depressing situation thanks to embracing the change that came from people paying attention to his music. Isaiah had sent out his unfinished Soundcloud files to writers like Max Pete and Jeff Weiss, who gave him constructive criticism which he then used to improve his songs. He flew out to L.A. and met with a number of A&Rs who had heard his name through the wire. Eventually, he landed a spot on the TDE roster.
Unlike the original four members of TDE, Isaiah didn’t grow up in California. He doesn’t embody the street centric qualities of Jay Rock or fulfill the drug dealer tropes quite like Schoolboy Q, nor does he reflect the innocence of growing up in close proximity to violence like Kendrick. Isaiah Rashad is the outcast from a small town, the troubled kid who’s trying to work out his demons by locking himself in a room and listing all of them. His debut project, Cilvia Demo, was a thematically mature project for a 22 year old and explored issues like Isaiah’s relationship with his father, medicated self abuse, and suicide. It was painfully human and at times imperfect, and branding the TDE logo on the project automatically raised expectations, as did the fact that Isaiah’s delivery perpetually sounds as if he’s on the cusp of unleashing a furious “Rigamortus”-like salvo of lyrics, leaving some unfulfilled. But the Kendrick comparison is lazy, especially since Isaiah’s biggest influence within the TDE camp is Schoolboy; he cites both Setbacks and Habits & Contradictions as two albums that inspired him during the making of Cilvia Demo.
But right now, Isaiah is simply walking around the Tattoo nightclub in Toronto during his soundcheck, trying to figure out who he has to ask permission from in order to smoke his cigarette.
This is Isaiah’s first solo show ever, and it’s sold out. He’ll be opening for Schoolboy Q’s Oxymoron tour in the coming months, but since that show won’t stop in Canada, Isaiah decided to take it upon himself to visit Toronto for a solo billing. As he paces the floor, his slight frame is always in motion, doing dozens of things at once while maintaining order over all of them with a gap-toothed smile on his face. Currently, he’s doing a phone interview on stage while communicating with the sound technician in the back via pantomime, all while his eyes scan the room for the venue manager who holds the power to allow Isaiah to smoke.
The show isn’t without its flaws. Some miscommunications between Isaiah and his DJ lead to sloppy transitions and mistimed acapellas, but Isaiah was visibly overwhelmed by both the attendance and the reception he got from his (technically) international fans. After performing Cilvia Demo in it’s entirety and embracing the jampacked front row with hugs and high-fives, Isaiah opted to do something different and took a request. At the behest of a group of rowdy bros in the back, he performed “2x Pills,” one of the unfinished Soundcloud songs that he recorded two years ago, before TDE.
We spoke to Isaiah Rashad before his sold out show in Toronto to talk about his debut project with Top Dawg, drawing from past experiences, and his future musical growth.
Noisey: What’s different in your life since you made Cilvia Demo?
Isaiah Rashad: My dad and I have a pretty good relationship now, I don't pop pills like I was doing two summers ago, I haven't had the money to smoke as much as I want and I don't drink as much as I used to, I'm not in college anymore. I'm kinda living a regular life and I’ve never made a song as a regular guy — I’ve always been in a child-llke environment, so now I’m living a mature, adult life.
You set a high standard for yourself with your debut.
People look at this like a debut album. This isn't an album, it's my first swing at making a project, period. I've never put a .zip together. I've never really finished a whole song before this. I never put second verses on anything I recorded before I joined TDE.
Is it therapeutic for you to get your issues out in song?
Here's how I know it's time to let it go. The songs I made and the stuff I wrote about, I can't describe the shit anymore. It's not important, it's redundant. They aren’t new troubles. It’s like, ‘Damn, you’re 22 let it go, get into something else. Find some new problems.’ I want to talk about something else. I wanna have spiritual growth, I'll talk to you about that problem. I wanna have some better growth within myself, spiritually.
So you’re going to start rapping about religion?
All my shit is intertwined. I don't have religion, religion is just practice. If you put too much focus on the word “religion” you'll think too much about it and about the other parts that are attached to it, versus the spirituality and having the faith and being a decent human being. You can’t be placing the emphasis on the wrong things. Don't practice practicing. Practice what it is you're trying to accomplish. Practice by doing, not just by putting emphasis on the wrong thing. If you don't go by your instinct, you're not gonna do what you desire to do.
Have you ever trusted your instinct and been wrong?
Not in a true form. On some temptation shit, I've been wrong. But on some shit that's true to myself, like music or caring about a person? Never. I don't think you could have the wrong result if you're looking at it on a genuine level. You might do the wrong thing, but it's for the right reason. A genuine intention is going to be honest, you're going to be cautious with a genuine intention, it's not going to be a snap decision.
You talk about suicide in some of the songs on Cilvia Demo.
I thought about killing myself a lot when I was 19. I even gave it a shot a few times, but I chickened out. It's not really something I put emphasis on because it's not important, it's just a brief mention, just another thing that happened in my life.
How do you feel when you look back on that time in your life?
That's just stuff that's in my head, stuff that used to be important but isn’t anymore. Honestly, I need stuff to occupy my brain all the time. Right now it's focusing on my next project, but I need something to do so I can be thinking about it, because I don't want to be thinking about the problems I used to have. But when I write and record stuff I take myself to that place. It's like putting yourself in a movie of your past experiences, I have a real vivid memory.
What will you write about when you’re done expressing all the pain?
Pain feels good, it's entertaining. You like the way that shit feels, it's a new sensation. But why can't I make you love happy stuff? I can write about pain, I know it inside and out. I want to write about something else.
What’s real to you right now?
Very few thing right now, because very few people are real. I don't have friends, I don't trust nobody. I’ll be chilling with people, but I don't trust their intentions. People don't live for themselves half the time anyway, they're just trying to copy someone else. The friends I have right now are friends from my past who each had their own separate end goal that we were trying to accomplish before we even came together. Us coming together just made it easier. Some people just scheme together to come up on some shit quick and they end up fucking each other over. If I wasn't with TDE I was still gonna try to do this shit, and my homies would've still been producing and everyone would've still been moving.
What’s the biggest worry in your life right now?
Where I can get my haircut. Seriously, I used to not have money to get a haircut sometimes, but now I can afford to do that. My mind frame hasn't changed, I'm trying to get it to change. I'm trying to move forward into the next chapter of my life, but I still think hella broke. I don't have problems because broke niggas don't have problems when they don't have bills. And thanks to TDE, I don’t have bills.
@SlavaP is a writer living in Toronto