Isaiah Rashad doesn't go out of his way to prove his transcendent talent on The Sun's Tirade, but it's undeniable by the album's conclusion.
Isaiah Rashad’s music is reminiscent of the time when Carmelo Anthony scored 50 points on the Miami Heat by making exclusively three-pointers and mid-range jumpers. Few of the individual moments were breathtaking, but the overall body of work was truly profound. Such is the case with Rashad as an MC; he doesn’t try to drop your jaw with technical precision or Ph.D. wordplay, yet track after track on The Sun’s Tirade shine with hard-earned wisdom and quiet intelligence.
Rashad doesn’t necessarily mesh with the huge personalities of TDE’s core rappers, and he largely avoids the spotlight besides unavoidable album promo, but in terms of his actual product it's easy to see why the label brought him into the fold. In a way, he manages to incorporate strengths of all four Black Hippy MCs, and throughout The Sun’s Tirade you can hear the philosophizing of Ab-Soul, the street-corner savvy of Jay Rock, the raucousness of Schoolboy Q, and the dexterity and perceptiveness of Kendrick Lamar.
On opener “4r Da Squaw” he incorporates his young son Yari’s gibberish into a line that works both as an endearing exchange between a father and child and a pointed jab at rappers who fail to mature as artists (“You ain’t nothin’ but a baby, your worst fear is growing up”). The beat, provided by FrancisGotHeat, is smooth and cerebral, the kind of yeoman-like boom-bap that a young Kendrick would have made a point of leaving unrecognizable. Rashad doesn’t have the same chip on his shoulder, though, and his singsong cadence gives the whole proceeding a kind of casual brilliance.
But make no mistake, Rashad’s wheelhouse has expanded since his understated 2014 masterpiece Cilvia Demo, and he tries things on The Sun’s Tirade that show he’s learned from his TDE brethren about stretching the boundaries of hip-hop. Rashad is an unpolished singer, but he can hold a tune, and there’s a blue-collar weariness to his vocals on “Rope”. He sang occasionally on his debut but does so here in more unconventional places, like the trap-tinged “AA” or the gliding hook of southern rap ode “Tity and Dolla”.
The album isn’t packed with superstar cameos (though Kendrick, SZA, Jay Rock, and Syd from The Internet do all chip in) or A-list producers (save for Mike Will Made It’s twitchy minimalism on “A Lot”), but it does feel more “major” than his debut for whatever that’s worth. The soundscapes of Cilvia Demo melded together in the oppressive southern heat that raised Rashad, but here there are more distinct delineations and roles for the songs to play, which isn’t a bad thing because Rashad’s flow is suited for almost any situation.
The molasses-paced “Silkk Da Shocka” is a stunning turn from Rashad, with the MC building on the fatalistic lover he played on “West Savannah” but with a more optimistic outlook. His metaphors are simple and clear but do a masterful job of divulging the nature of the relationship (“I am the sky to your star / I am the end of your month / You are the start of my day / You brought the smile from my face”). Syd’s appearance imbues the track with a feminine energy.
“Brenda” is at once an ode to his grandmother and a condemnation of the minimum lifestyle that so many people he knows found themselves living. It’s a little thematically scattered, but both verses offer layers of additional detail that flesh out the MC’s background. He also gives us perhaps the best one-line recipe for his unique style that could be imagined (“Mix that Boosie with that boom-bap”).
“Park” is a thrilling bit of verbal execution, with Rashad’s staccato flow complimenting the twitchy hi-hats perfectly. The song’s verse is masterful, but the best line he drops comes on the track’s extended hook, when he sets his sights on owning the team, not just being another player. “I look more Cuban than Maverick,” he muses.
“Don’t Matter” is a typical slice of smoky Rashad introspection dressed in frenetic break drums that recall Stankonia-era Outkast, but it features a line that pretty effectively sums up the young MC’s sterling career so far. “And if I make to the gates and he don't recognize / That I had all the traits of greatness and the starlight at my feet,” he says, positing that even his preferred celestial being may miss the understated excellence that has become his norm. Fortunately, if he keeps turning out projects as strong as The Sun’s Tirade, it’s hard to foresee Rashad reaching the afterlife without the recognition he deserves as a generational talent.