It was a down year for hip-hop. Heavyweights like Kanye West, Drake and Pusha T dropped their most-recent efforts in 2013 and following up in 2014 would be understandably too soon, especially considering how much play those albums are still getting. Enter TDE Records, from Los Angeles, CA. The label that discovered and built a small empire around Kendrick Lamar’s good kid M.A.A.D. city, boasts only 6 artists (7 if you count supergroup Black Hippy). TDE had quite the year, dropping LP’s from stalwarts Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and new signee, female singer SZA. But their best release of the year, came from their other new signee, 23 year old Tennessee native Isaiah Rashad; in the form of the introspective, wonderfully produced and polished Cilvia Demo.
My equation for hip-hop to hit is simple. Without using big words and shit, it needs to sound nice, have substantive lyrics and something that I can feel. I’m not really into MC’s who wanna act hard, or brag about how much money they have. Fuck that. Been there, done that, over it. Herein lies my affinity for Cilvia Demo. It doesn’t boast a big single, like Q’s Oxymoron does with “Collard Greens” and it doesn’t have the big name features that Ab-Soul’s These Days has with Rick Ross, Lupe Fiasco and Action Bronson. But it marries Rashad’s emotive rhymes with ambitious hip-hop production that comes across like a classic sound.
Rashad uses unconventional lyrical paths to get his points across. On “Tranquility,” he waxes on the fucked up state of the world with these quasi-controversial bars:
Well, thank God for the shooter,
And thank God for the leader,
And think hard for a message
Blink art on pedestrians, what are you, a believer?
It’s a take on how both good and evil play a part in our perception of the world. How we establish our value judgements once we look at the whole scope of all parties involved. He cites Caesar and Brutus and Jesus to illustrate his point. All the while, production by Farhot strews lush keys along with an ominous bass hit.
Farhot and those buttery keys also guide the way on “Soliloquy,” which is exactly that. A 2-minute aside from Rashad with no chorus. On it, Rashad shows his serious side (“I left my daddy round ’97, he was lazy”), his playfulness (“I been on the Jäger for a day-ger watch me slow dance”) and even a witty sports reference (“And I’m finessing like I’m Timmy Duncan, win you something.”) He totally nails it and settles into Farhot’s groove.
The album’s crowning moment comes on “Heavenly Father,” where Rashad questions the role of God in his life, namely pondering whether the life he’s led is part of the greater plan that’s been set for him. It’s another fine production on Cilvia Demo, this time from D. Sanders, who infuses a pipe organ sound reminiscent of a ballpark and a stand-up bass that makes me hope to see Isaiah Rashad perform a song like this at a jazz club someday. I feel it even more on the beautiful music video for the song directed by Eric Swiz.
This was a humble-yet-next-level effort from the even-keeled Isaiah Rashad and one of my favorite hip-hop albums of the year. One love.