Album Review: ‘The Sun’s Tirade’ – Isaiah Rashad

Chattanooga’s very own shines on his first full-length LP


To tirade – a loud, angry speech of criticism or accusation. To tirade is to speak ill of or denounce something or someone, a habit that has found itself to be a staple of hip hop as a whole. From battle-rapping to a diss track, staging a verbal attack has often been the go-to defence mechanism of many a rapper – a strong component of the genre. But was does a great ball of fire in the sky ‘tirade’ about? Well, probably the thing that’s always in front of its giant face – the earth. Perhaps that’s the sentiment TDE signee Isaiah Rashad shares with our resident warmth-giver, a distinct need to criticise the earth and its inhabitants. It’s certainly an interesting approach to making a 2nd album, but it’s one that you would come to expect from an artist signed to a label that’s pushing so many boundaries within music today.  

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“Damn, he’s ghost-riding the jib.”

Except, the word ‘tirade’ doesn’t quite fit Isaiah’s (Zay’s) style. If you listen to his debut outing EP ‘Cilvia Demo‘ from 2014, the Chattanooga, Tennessee-born MC came across as a very laid-back, mellow kind of individual, a guy that would sooner choose to perfectly capture a ‘vibe’ rather than stage a lyrical barrage on a fellow musician. He seemed to be content to let himself and the listener get lost in the feeling rather than front any sort of prophetic ramblings as an attraction. Zay was about the sound – both his voice and the instrumental ringing out as one. Essentially smoke music. And he continues this particular style on ‘The Sun’s Tirade‘ in exceptional fashion, taking what people loved about his debut and amplifying it tenfold.

The lead single ‘Free Lunch‘ captures the unique aspects of Zay’s creative process with a love-ably simple instrumental held down by kick snares and the warm embrace of key chords. While stripped-back and clean, it’s still allowed to shine through with Zay’s on point hook and verse delivery, his words coinciding with the bouncing beat to a tee. “Meal ticket, ticket, meal ticket, ticket, comma, uh / Steel in my liver, real niggas in my condom, huh” he spits on the track, making it obvious he’s enjoying being on it as much as you are listening to it. It perfectly encapsulates both his style and what you’ll find on most of this LP, which is a damn good thing too. Plus the condom line is hilarious.

This consistent style continues through out the most of the record, impressive instrumentals and a unique flow are upheld and come together for great track after great track. ‘Rope // rosegold‘ and ‘Bday‘ both utilise jazz and soul-inspired sounds brilliantly, the first especially well with the sweet twang of its guitar melody in the first half and the drum kicks that sound like they were pulled straight from A Tribe Called Quest record in the second. Isaiah manages to come across as completely comfortable yet charismatic on these beats, effortlessly transitioning between both rapping and singing. This is still the case even when its brought down to a slower, more spaced-out feel such as on tracks like ‘Stuck in the Mud‘ with its dry rattle and atmospheric keys, plus fellow label signee SZA’s vocals complimenting the hook well. “I got a blunt inside my granny whip / Like my granny did, when she was dealin’ with them damages” he raps with ease, the wonderfully crafted instrumental providing the strong foundation for his various fables.

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Isaiah signed to Top Dawg Entertainment in March, 2013.

And Zay certainly has stories to share, just as much as any other experienced rapper in the game. In fact, its no secret that the rapper was almost dropped from the rising label due to a stint with a drug and alcohol addiction, and he addresses it here with no qualms. On ‘Dressed Like Rappers‘ he discusses the vices of being in this profession and the downsides that come with it, questioning “Real life / What does it feel like?” and acknowledging the issues that almost resulted in his album not seeing the light of day: “I can’t admit / I’ve been depressed / I hit a wall, ouch“.  On ‘Silkk Da Shocka‘ he duets with The Internet’s Syd tha Kid to express his hurt over a difficult relationship caused by his status: “I’m left at home by myself / I chose the world in the end / I say you know I be back / You try your best to pretend“. While the instrumentals (as you would expect from TDE) are remarkably made, it would be an injustice to not address Isaiah’s engaging writing and often overlooked passionate delivery.

If his last project was a display of his ability, then ‘The Sun’s Tirade‘ is Zay using that same ability to create a more focused and fun LP that sometimes loses its inhibitions to delve into the frivolous side of its artist. The track ‘Tity and Dolla‘ is the most obvious exhibition of this, the hook “I know that bitches gon’ be with it but I love them hoes / Just call before ‘fore you come, just call before you go” serving as both a guilty admittance to his love for more ‘open’ women and also an ode to Outkast. All this is rendered on top of a tremendous beat which uses a whistling sample and a healthy dose of bumping bass to create one of the more energetic tracks on the cut.

Mirroring this lively side to Isaiah’s musical prowess is the track ‘Wat’s Wrong‘, one of the best on the cut. The superb production is used so well by both Zay and the always-unpredictable-yet-always-sublime Kendrick Lamar, both of whose verses accommodate the bounce and flow of the song but don’t overpower the sound too much; resulting in yet another shining achievement this LP can call its own.

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Released in 2014, Zay’s commercial debut was met with a lot of praise by critics. 

The consistent hot streak the album parades in its first two thirds is sadly not continued to its fullest towards the back end of the record, where the rapper toys with more trendy and ‘contemporary’ sounds from various producers. The Mike Will Made-It produced ‘A lot‘ unfortunately seems out of place in the wider styling of the LP, with its generic trap-flavoured instrumental and the uninspired rapping from Zay himself. I’m all for exploring different sounds and pathways, and the track isn’t not enjoyable, it just doesn’t come close to the standard set by much of what came before it. The song that immediately follows it ‘AA‘, while significantly more enjoyable than its predecessor, has Isaiah doing his best Rich Homie Quan impression, an uninteresting dive into a different sound that doesn’t quite pay off  overall.

The final three tracks manage to really improve on the quality that wavered with the previously mentioned songs however, with some creative fusions on both old and new tropes on the genre. The track ‘Brenda‘ has a boom bap-esque rhythm to it, but its smoothed out by a wailing sax and an intent delivery from Isaiah himself talking about his grandma of (would you believe) the title’s name and their distant relationship: “Shit and what’s worse / She too tired to talk, lately your thumbs hurt“. In addition the finale track ‘Find a Topic‘ oozes sleekness and a real California-type vibe; sampling what almost sounds like the music you’d hear in an elevator (but thankfully to a much more exciting degree). With its rolling hi-hats and charming hook, it’s a solid end to a mostly stellar project that almost-perfectly sums up what makes Isaiah so lovable across the 17 tracks. Perhaps this is his stance, not to tirade on what he sees across the human race, but to avoid a tirade all together and experience living as a free individual not held down by material constraints – and making some damn good music while he’s at it.

 

Verdict

It must be a tough job trying to live up to a label name that has such modern classics under its belt, but Isaiah Rashad has done TDE proud with his first full-length studio album. Smooth, smart and embodying just enough self-awareness to more than often have fun with its sometimes solemn-sounding artist, it proves the Chattanooga-born MC is a dark horse that can really challenge the conventions of a modern-day audience that expects turn-up beats and a hundred ad-libs to match. It’s staggering to see an artist from the South of the US seem so at home with music that holds attributes from all kinds of locations, but it works, and for most of the record’s run time it’s a more than enjoyable experience. With some extraordinary production behind the boards and an unwavering delivery that conveys confidence yet also a sense of fragility, ‘The Sun’s Tirade‘ stands to be TDE’s best release so far this year, and that’s saying something.

Highlights: Wat’s Wrong, Free Lunch, Tity and Dolla, Rope // rosegold, Dressed Like Rappers, Brenda, Silkk Da Shocka

8/10

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