In the two years Isaiah Rashad spent away from cameras and microphones, Top Dawg Entertainment’s Chattanooga upstart felt more success and more folly than ever before. Following his critically acclaimed Cilvia Demo mixtape in 2014, Rashad joined labelmate Schoolboy Q on his Oxymoron tour where, with unprecedented access to cash, drugs and drank, Rashad nearly threw his career away. Addicted to Xannies and getting drunk every day was a recipe for destruction that led to TDE CEO Dave Free banishing the artist from the tour, telling him to get himself together if he wants to ever have a future with the squad. Once back home, Rashad began to mend relationships with his children and overcome the writer’s block frequently referenced on Rashad’s new album The Sun’s Tirade. With a release that, in Rashad’s own words, “aligned perfectly,” The Sun’s Tirade is not just a fiery diatribe but a cracking open of the psyche – where eschatological concerns, worldly desires and familial responsibilities are reconciled over down-tempo grooves – making this one of the most believable albums of the year.

There is very little exaggeration on The Sun’s Tirade, in large part due to Rashad’s intriguing blue-collar posture. The opening track, which features a livid Dave Free posing the question that most fans were already asking, “You don’t want your next shit out?/ You don’t care?” While other artists like, say, Frank Ocean, Maxwell or De La Soul, might have used that question to make some grand “artistic” statement based on the notion that they have to live before being able to sit down and write, Rashad posits his answer with some self-referential realness on “4r Da Squaw”: “You ain’t nothin’ but a baby, your fear is growin’ up.” Darkness shrouds Rashad’s retelling of this tumultuous but necessary two-year period where Rashad was trying to fill personal voids. On “Rope // rosegold,” the artist grew tired of getting high – “I don’t want space ships, I miss my roses” – preferring something closer to a spiritual transcendence rather than a manufactured one. The Antydote and J.LBS-produced track is heavy in juxtaposition, a church tambourine signaling salvation rubs rough against Rashad’s suicidal blues (“But thank God I found this rope“). The back half of the song is even more straightforward with the disconnect between being surrounded by death while a god above preaches life: “Lord, I can’t feel the joy/ I can’t fill the void…“.

But Rashad is neither solely introspective nor upward looking. The album does feature the aggressive yet personal bombast of tracks like “Banana” and “Modest” from the Cilvia Demo project. “All of my limits could die/ Look at you timid as fuck,” he begins on the single “Park,” “And you holding me up/ And I’m trying to be Nicki Minaj…“. Just because he had his issues doesn’t mean he doubts his own talent. Really, it was a matter of getting out of his own way. He had great help. Features from in-house acts like SZA and Jay Rock add legitimacy and dynamism to their respective records; The Internet’s Syd (on “Silkk Da Shocka”) and Chicago frontwoman Kari Faux (on “Bday”) are satin smooth alongside Rashad’s raspy tenor. Even Kendrick Lamar makes an appearance on the soaring and reflective “Wat’s Wrong.” With hometown homies like Park Ave, Antydote and others from his The House collective, Rashad is at his peak messily flowing over hushed and muted beats. The scarcity creates a canvas for Rashad to add vocal inflections and affectations as freely as he’d like without getting too ahead of himself. Though at times the sound can run a little mundane, especially if you’re listening to the album from top to bottom, Rashad adeptly folds in double entendres that are cleverly tragic but always real. There are gems everywhere on this record.

If Cilvia Demo represented Rashad’s splash onto the rap scene, then The Sun’s Tirade sees the artist’s handle the difficulties of dealing with the ripple effects. Between re-discovering God to describing the feeling of writer’s block (“Stuck in the Mud”) and eulogizing his grandmother (“Brenda”), Rashad is an honest tour guide through his mind’s labyrinth. He’s indecipherable at times, preferring to mumble and chew on his words, but Rashad rewards those who attempt to listen hard enough. With expertly crafted imagery and veracity, Rashad is finally feeling like himself again, and that’s something that he and his audience should really be excited about.

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