Rap fans got a glimpse of a rising star back in late 2013 when the BET Hip Hop Awards aired on national television. When it came time for TDE’s BET Cypher showing, one notable name (aside from Kendrick Lamar) caught the attention of everybody watching. After one verse—and a couple striking records such as the SZA-assisted “Ronnie Drake” and one of the smoothest hooks of the past year in “Shot You Down”—Chattanooga, Tennessee native Isaiah Rashad made it a showing to remember, as fans quickly fine-tuned themselves to the 22-year-old’s career.
With the lyrical prowess and dominance TDE artists such as Kendrick Lamar showed in 2013, (without a single major project released), it’s evident label bosses Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith and Terrence “Punch” Henderson hold their musical standards high. Adding Top Dawg Entertainment’s most recent signee to that roster means there’s a good chance he’ll make a grand, thumping entrance in the Rap game, as he’s already been picked as one of HipHopDX’s Top Artists To Watch For In 2014. The year will begin with his newest mixtape, the soon-to-be released Cilvia, which sonically, draws on his Southern Rap roots.
Rashad already possessed raw, lyrical talent before signing with the label, and now that he’s alongside and learning from some of Rap’s heavyweights, it’s going to be interesting—and maybe scary—to see how much further the 22-year-old emcee can grow and establish himself into Rap superstardom. Only time will tell, as 2014 could potentially be one historic year for both Rashad and Top Dawg Entertainment.
Isaiah Rashad Explains Why His “Cilvia” EP Was Delayed
HipHopDX: It was announced that TDE is planning to drop six albums in 2014, so this year could be an epic one. Where do you feel TDE stands in Rap history right now?
Isaiah Rashad: I think TDE in 2014 is going to do what TDE in 2013 did, and that will continue as we’re pushing for quality music. We’re pushing for the best music, the best raps, most vicious lines and best vocals. We’re just going to continue to get better and expand.
DX: Do you have plans on dropping a debut album this year?
Isaiah Rashad: I’ll be dropping a project this year, yeah. Right now I’m just focusing on the Cilvia EP.
DX: What’s the update with Cilvia? You mentioned it was supposed to be set for a late-December drop.
Isaiah Rashad: Yeah. [Laughs] We got some more songs, so we changed the tracklist. It’s all me [on the project], but there might be a couple surprises.
DX: What do you hope fans can take away after listening to the project once it drops?
Isaiah Rashad: I just hope it’s something they play over and over. That’s really it, and have them live up to it.
Isaiah Rashad Shares Advice From Punch, Top Dawg & Black Hippy
DX: You used to live at the TDE house slash studio when you moved to LA, right? How would you describe a typical day living in that house? I would assume you just recorded all day.
Isaiah Rashad: Yeah, I’ll wake up at five in the morning, and I’ll probably smoke, write raps… I got a gang of beats, and at around 10:00, I’ll eat, take a nap, wake up again, smoke, write some more, listen to some beats, maybe holler at the homies and go downtown. It’s a real peaceful place.
DX: Do any of the TDE in-house producers drop by to record with you?
Isaiah Rashad: I live with two producers. I live with Antydote and Chris Calor. They’ve been producing everything with the other producers out there and grinding and working. Everybody drops by often.
DX: You’re a young rapper, so you can be somewhat described as a student of the game. What are some things that you’ve learned just from being around your labelmates or even from guys like Punch and Top Dawg?
Isaiah Rashad: They taught me to be sure of myself, and be critical but not over think. They encourage you as an artist to be yourself. That’s the only way you’ll fit in with everybody anyways. Of course, when you’re Kendrick [Lamar], Ab-Soul or ScHoolboy Q, they’re real serious about their craft and they got a vision. They teach you to have a vision for yourself and have an idea of what you want to be and what you want to do.
DX: What can you remember from your first time meeting Kendrick?
Isaiah Rashad: He’ll tell me to be myself, and that’s it. He listened to a couple tracks and went into the booth. We went to the studio, and I went to another studio and that was it.
DX: Do you feel like an underdog being the new guy on the label? If so, how are you able to thrive off that?
Isaiah Rashad: I don’t feel like that. I wouldn’t describe myself as an underdog, not right now with these guys. I’m more like the little brother, and I get opportunities to learn from the best. It’s no pressure. I’m just a student of the game, man.
DX: Where do you see yourself fitting in as a TDE artist? As in what type of music do you envision yourself creating?
Isaiah Rashad: I don’t think I can determine that yet. I have a vision of the sound. I like to make music you can do anything to. I want to make music you can vibe to, chill to, listen to with a lot of people in your house, and make yourself feel some type of shit. It’s real classic… I don’t like the term classic. It’s more like timeless. This some timeless shit that’s going to be forever relevant. That’s the vibe I’m trying to get. It’s mellow but upbeat at the same.
DX: Over the past few months, you’ve signed with a label and worked alongside some of the best in the game. How has this transition been for you since you signed the deal?
Isaiah Rashad: I don’t know; that’s a weird perception—making all this money and with the people I work with, because it’s still me and my homies doing it at the house. It’s just us and nobody else. I’m with the homies I was doing it with before I came here, and all that other stuff isn’t important. What is important is the fans and the music for us to listen to. It’s not really a change of lifestyle. I don’t really do that type of stuff. From being here, it ain’t no type of privilege. They treat you like the little—I’m 22. I’m still here, just recording. That’s what it’s about.
Isaiah Rashad Points To His BET Cypher Verse As A Career Highlight
DX: TDE had their own moment during the BET Cyphers. Where did that rank so far in the early stages of your career?
Isaiah Rashad: Man, that shit was tight. That shit was… I can’t even be modest about it. That shit was awesome. I didn’t have no project out, ain’t nobody ever heard of me, and I was just trying to make sure I had one of those picks from 106 & Park type of verses where the dude comes on and tries hard. I was trying to do that. That shit was number one for me.
DX: How much time did you spend preparing for that verse?
Isaiah Rashad: They asked me to write it, and I just wrote it. That was really it. I’m very confident in myself. I wrote it, went over it, let them hear it and approve it, and that was it. [The performance] wasn’t any pressure; it was just hot.
DX: Was that the first time you heard the verses from everyone in the group? During the actual filming?
Isaiah Rashad: We heard everybody’s verses except for Kendrick. We heard his on the spot.
DX: Was that strategic? Not giving the verse away until the actual filming?
Isaiah Rashad: Nah, it kind of just popped up. Like I didn’t even know he was doing the verse type of shit. He did it, and it’s like, “Well, ah fuck. Dot strikes again.” You knew it was going to happen. He knew it was going to happen. He came with it. He won, man [laughs].
DX: Your mom and dad helped introduce you to Southern music when you were young, but what about music that was happening on the East and West Coast? What type of impact did that type of music have on you growing up?
Isaiah Rashad: I listened to a lot of music. After I got older, I started listening to Danger Mouse, The Gorillaz, and with East Coast music, I can’t think of anyone in particular. There was Jay Z, of course. Actually, there was a lot of Jay Z. He was a big influence, but other than that, nobody, really. It was really a lot of stuff in the South where it was the singing, R&B and soul music. With the West Coast, there was Snoop, of course. The regular shit niggas get asked, to the most popular stuff and most legendary guys, that’s the stuff I would listen to. I’m really a student of the game, so I can’t point out one individual artist.
How Scarface & Jay Z Infuenced Isaiah Rashad’s Music
DX: Recently you released the “Brad Jordan” record. Talk about the influence Scarface had on you. Can you recall the first time you were introduced to his music and how it made you feel?
Isaiah Rashad: With Scarface, I can’t think of a particular time... Oh, “Smile,” with him and Tupac. That was the tightest. That shit was raw and the video was hard, with Tupac on the cross. Scarface always has this dark shit about him. The first time I ever saw the “Smile” video, it was really significant. The way he raps, and being able to say a whole bunch of crazy words and still speak from the heart.
DX: We can tell by your music videos that you’re a family-oriented guy. Now that you’re signed with a label and moved out, how has that impacted your relationship with your family?
Isaiah Rashad: We’re tighter. Moving was a big step and an anomaly. We’re always trying to stay together, and they make sure I’m grounded. My mom met some of the dudes. She met Kendrick. He liked her, and she liked him. It’s cool and easy. It’s like moving to another family in California.
DX: You also have a son now. How has fatherhood helped change your view of life?
Isaiah Rashad: I got somebody that I care about that needs me to take care of him, so I need to take care of myself.
DX: How are you able to effectively balance both being a dad and rapper?
Isaiah Rashad:I mean, you just do it. Rapping is my occupation. It’s just me at work and something I love doing. It’s more of a time thing. I gotta be obligated to spend time with my family and be a better dad than a lot of people’s parents have been for them.
DX: So before signing to TDE, your friend introduced you to Dave Free. How did that meeting come about, and how did that conversation go between you and Dave?
Isaiah Rashad: We were just eating. We were eating, talking about music and chilling. He asked me about my music, what I was doing with myself, and how I felt. He introduced me to Top [Dawg] and that was it. We’ve been riding ever since.
DX: Your label mates that are a part of Black Hippy are one of the biggest groups in Rap right now, so how are you able to create your own lane and build yourself up without getting caught in their shadow?
Isaiah Rashad: I was doing myself before. I’m still doing myself with the dudes I look up to. It’s not really stepping into their lane. It’s just helping me get a clear, better understanding on the technique, and what it takes to make a certain type of song, performance or type of show. It’s a learning experience. It’s no stepping on toes or anybody’s lane. I can’t do what they do, and they can’t do what I do either.
DX: It’s the beginning of a new year. What are some personal goals you’ve set for yourself for the coming year?
Isaiah Rashad: I want to learn how to swim, I need to learn how to get my crossover a little better, and I want to stop smoking blacks. That’s really it. What else? Maybe get an apartment in Chattanooga. Oh, and get some songwriters award at some point. [As far as musical goals], there’s a couple producers I want to work with, but I don’t want to give out their names. I want to have surprises and make everything feel super natural. There’s a couple producers I want to work with, and I want to go to Bonnaroo [Music Festival]. I want to perform there, actually. I want to perform there and watch that shit.
DX: You just mentioned producers, but how about artist collaborations outside of TDE?
Isaiah Rashad: I don’t know. I’m a real fan of shit, so for me it’s just work. I don’t even think about it. It’ll happen when it happens, just like when I got signed. I didn’t go out or look for a collab; things just happen naturally. There’s some dudes that I rock with, but I think it’ll happen like that. Dudes I want to work with meet with each other; it’ll be cool, but I don’t have no names in particular.
DX: Erykah Badu would be dope.
Isaiah Rashad: [Laughs] Yeah, that’ll be sweet.