Isaiah Rashad has a lot of making up to do. While his playful swagger remains intact as he sits in Billboard’s New York City offices, the Chattanooga, Tennessee rapper knows he’s skating on thin ice after a tumultuous few years.
In 2014, Rashad’s unflinching approach to his ambitious debut, Cilvia Demo, earned him critical acclaim and plenty of fans with blistering cuts like “Webbie Flow,” “Brad Jordan,” and “R.I.P. Kevin Miller.” TDE’s CEO, Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, reveled at the thought of developing a rap triumvirate of Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, and Isaiah Rashad. In those three, he had his LeBron, Wade, and Bosh. He smelled a potential dynasty in the making… until Rashad nearly curtailed his career because of drugs and alcohol.
“You realize how critically-acclaimed don’t mean shit,” the 25-year-old tells Billboard. “It’s tight if you bounce back with something. If you don’t, you’re just a talented young n–ga. I’m just a talented young n–ga, at least that’s how it felt since I haven’t put nothing out since [Cilvia Demo in 2014], except like three songs. In reality, for me, if things would have went exactly how I wanted them to go, it still would have happened. It would have been similar, but the things in between wouldn’t have been the same.”
Immediately after his meteoric rise, Rashad was ambushed by substance abuse. During ScHoolboy Q’s 2014 Oxymoron Tour, the forlorn rap star found himself entrapped in an ugly room of depression, laziness, and loneliness. Through Xanax and heavy drinking, he concocted the perfect cocktail for disaster. His insatiable hunger dissipated. He was no longer making music. For two years, fans pondered if he would ever deliver his sophomore project. His lack of work ethic nearly strained his relationship with Top Dawg.
“He pressed me about a cut off time. ‘Dog, you need to turn this shit in. Whatever you’re doing, you need to turn something in,’ and I wouldn’t. He was like, ‘The next time, I’m gonna drop your ass,'” Rashad recalls. Even Rashad’s mother got a sad dose of her son’s exhausting bout with drugs and alcohol. That’s when he realized he needed to get his life in order.
“My mom seen me faded,” says Isaiah. “Then, [I struggled with] a lapsing memory. I don’t be remembering a lot of shit between them two years. It’s like gaps in time. So I was like, ‘I don’t really want that no more.’ That was the worst, not remembering shit. There’s a lot of shit I don’t remember.”
Instead of sulking in his pain, Isaiah chalked up his losses and returned to his fortress of solitude — the studio. There, he began masterfully penning banger after banger until he finally pieced together his once-elusive project, The Sun’s Tirade, due this Friday, Sept. 2. This past August, he showered his fans with a bevy of potent cuts including “Free Lunch,” “I Mean,” and “Park.” Despite his harsh experiences over the last two years, Isaiah is confident that his fans will love his new tape and appreciate his growth since Cilvia Demo.
“Three years ago, it was like Fargo. Fargo came out in ’96 and it’s like No Country for Old Men coming out right now. So it’s not the same movie. [It’s the] same director, same writer. It’s not the same movie. It’s the same brain trust, same ideas, same experiences. It’s not the same movie. You’re gonna get some of the vibes, the same attention to detail, and stuff, just not the same movie.”
His 17-track project will include features from members of TDE’s collective in Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock and SZA. For hardcore fans, his collaboration with Kendrick has been long overdue. When asked how he was able to nab a feature from K.Dot for “Wat’s Wrong,” Isaiah credits time being in his favor.
“Luck. Luck of the time. I sent him a song at the right time. I sent him a song that he liked at the right time it and it’s gonna be dope.” While Isaiah is beyond excited to finally land his Kendrick feature, his eyes instantly beamed once he spoke about his new track with Jay Rock titled “Tity and Dolla.”
“I got this shit with Jay Rock. I liked that it’s new shit and no remix. Like the ‘Shot You Down’ shit was cool. That was cool, but this is like a real song. Me and Jay Rock’s song is probably my favorite.”
In addition to Kendrick and Jay Rock, Rashad called on his friend and partner-in-crime, SZA, for his newest endeavor. After delivering two great records in “West Savannah” and “Ronnie Drake” on Cilvia Demo, fans have been itching for more collaborations between the two rising stars. “It gotta be at the right place and right time,” Isaiah says regarding a possible collaborative project with him and TDE’s songbird. “She’s working on her shit. I got a couple on there. Punch keeps trying to make us do a project together. I’m done with my shit. I think her shit is about done. So it might line up. Who knows? We might do a mixtape.”
After a long timeout from music, Isaiah is refocused and ready to deliver more heat for his fans. He’s even considering revisiting a project that he once thought he would never dare to complete.
“I’m thinking about making Pieces of a Kid, even though my idea for it was so vast. For n–gas who know me, they know all my original shit was just titled under Pieces of a Kid. So it was like a project I was working on that I hadn’t organized. So now, I’m thinking about actually doing it. Pieces of a Kid is pressure. I feel like that’s the one project that I would wanna make that I don’t even know what it sounds like no more. It’s soulful though, but I don’t know what it’ll sound like.”