Isaiah Rashad’s Southern Memories

Written by David Turner (@dalatudalatu)

If you gotta be a nigga, I’d pray for ya basic-ass niggas be born above the Mason Dixon line to avoid that curse of a southern drawl. An accent that makes people, especially your own, assume ya to be slow, dumb-witted niggers. Isaiah RaShad sat below that line for most of his life, coming from Chattanooga, Tennessee. But with songs called “R.I.P. Kevin Miller” and “Brad Jordan,” named after Master P’s brother and legendary Houston rapper Scarface respectively, he could’ve easily generalize those roots; but RaShad never strays away from his southern, but never that southern nature. There is a familiarity in this unknown setting that sits on the outskirts of his rhymes. When he shouts out to Chattanooga city sides and neighborhoods, there isn’t a wealth of knowledge, unlike Rap Dixieland capitals of Atlanta or Houston from previous rap songs or pop cultural nuggets to fill the mental holes. Instead those knowledge gaps personalize every sip of beer, hit of weed and each porch smoked black and mild to RaShad’s own world.

A girlfriend, a tall can of Ole E, dry weed, and a father whose appearance signals trouble are all that populate Cilvia Demo. That’s really it, nothing more. No parties, strip clubs, fly kicks, sky high rims or really any other dirty south tropes. RaShad works with a very limited palette for the Cilvia Demo, there is no overt meta-narrative of Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.a.A.d. city, nor does he try to touch upon everything under-the-sun approach of Kanye West. The album ends up just being immediate human relationships and Rashad’s vices.

His father’s influence sits high above the album. Whether “Heavenly Father” is about Jesus’ Pop doesn’t much matter, as most of the track is spent with RaShad turning his away from the teachings of his earthly father. He mentions his father calling up drunk, yet liquor and beer still pass between RaShad’s lips on nearly every song. There are those vices again. The same is true of the weed smoke in his lungs, but neither sip nor inhale distorts his vision of not wanting to turn out like his father and forgetting that he has his own little life to support (“Brad Jordan”).

Cilvia Demo has an unusual weightless for a debut rap project, especially one from such an established rap camp (Top Dawg Entertainment). At one point the album was supposed to be a mixtape, maybe an EP and now it’s on iTunes for $8.99 despite it being RaShad’s first full project. Maybe it is TDE’s confidence in the young rapper, which the album justifies as RaShad establishes him as a rapper who’s contemplative, always living in the moment. The “Shot You Down (Remix)” alters the reflective lens and instead of being at internal issues, he mocks “bitch ass rappers” and “Hypebeast pussies.” Cocky youthful rap tough talk but when label mates and Cali residents Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q bring in harsh self-critique the song justifies its seven minute running time. As RaShad’s refrain of “I Came/  I Saw / I Conquered / I Shot You Down” rings out, it’s an aggressive but calming shot release after a 45 minute ride-along with his internal concerns.

I never noticed his southern accent. Isaiah raps just any kid from where I’m from if they pick up a mic and committed to the act. He extends syllables, never stresses pronunciation and rhymes with a soft-spoken ease. RaShad never announces that he’s rappin or reppin for Chattanooga, Tennessee, or the South. Why proclaim what’s given away by the way words ring from one’s mouth? Isaiah Rashad made a small southern album and one that came from a place I’ve always called home.

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