Isaiah Rashad: Cilvia Demo [Album Review]


There’s high expectations for TDE signee Isaiah Rashad as he’s been thrown into a label with four of the most distinct characters this generation of rappers has to offer. Schoolboy Q is the unhinged, drugged out partier. Ab-Soul is the spaced out nerd concerned with conspiracy theories and the universe. Jay Rockis the street level hustler with hard stories to tell. And the cornerstone, Kendrick Lamar, is the good kid in a m.a.a.d. city. Bringing his southern sensibilities to Cali-based TDE, Rashad maintains a collected presence throughout his debut that fits in quite well with his cohorts.

Falling somewhere between Q’s indulgence, Lamar’s pride of his environment and Drake’s issues with relationships, the 22-year-old Rashad comes off as a kid with a lot of problems that doesn’t seem too concerned about them on his debut Cilvia Demo. On the album opener “Hereditary” he belts, “My daddy taught me how to drink my pain away / My daddy taught me how to leave somebody.” The whole album is peppered with lines like this, but they’re generally followed with something along the lines of “I’ve been getting higher, and higher and higher, and higher / Now whattup?” as heard on the title track. This laidback attitude gives Rashad an understated sense of confidence and self-assuredness. “Heavenly Father” is the best example of this, as he confesses to self-harm as a child and losing his mind as an adult, all in a happy-go-lucky, sing-song voice. Rather than stew over all the shit he’s been through, Rashad addresses these topics with the understated maturity of someone who’s accepted and moved past his hardships. Such an intimate glimpse into someone’s life can usually come off as awkward, but his easygoing demeanor make these songs more conversational than confessional.

The one facet of the album where Rashad’s relaxed persona works wonders is his choice in production. Choosing mostly lesser-known producers as opposed to TDE’s in house production crew, theDigi+Phonics, Cilvia Demo’s beats wouldn’t be out of place on a Madlib album. Nearly all 14 tracks are filled with blunted loops, layered with piano keys and muffled drums. Accompanied by the smoky vocals of Rasahad’s slow cadence and surprisingly effective croon, the combination makes Cilvia a late night, slow burner rather than an in-your face statement. SZA, another new TDE signee, adds her subtle voice to two album standouts: “Ronnie Drake” and “West Savannah”  (a not-so-subtle tribute to OutKast). Her raspy vocals make a very natural companion to the subdued tone of these two songs, with the latter most likely being the only song on the album you’ll be able to truly blast in your car speakers.

Being signed to such a popular label with an unparalleled level of star power, it may come off as surprising only Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q appear as guests on Rashad’s debut. Even more surprising may be that they only make one appearance, both featured on album closer “Shot You Down.” Having the best hook on the whole album and outstanding guest verses make it a fantastic way to close Cilvia as well as preview of the budding chemistry Rashad is building with his labelmates. Hopefully their next posse track will involve the whole roster.

Isaiah Rashad is off to a great start with Cilvia Demo. Lyrically, he never throws any double-time tongue twisters in your face, but he doesn’t have to. His bars are more about the sentiment behind his words, rather then the actual words themselvesHis rhythm and excellent ear for beats have also given him a lane to develop his skills and carve out a niche for himself. Much like Frank Ocean, Rashad has found a way to pen some of his most personal thoughts and experiences in an accessible manner without it ever feeling forced. In the first of Top Dawg’s six promised albums this year, Isaiah Rashad has created a great name for himself, and the year’s first great Hip Hop record. Posted by: Thomas Johnson




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