TDE’s latest recruit brings his Southern charm to the West Coast rap empire
Words: Ernest Baker
For an artist at the onset of his career, Isaiah Rashad has a remarkably detailed grasp on where he’d like to end up when it’s all said and done. “I want to learn enough to have a great-ass performance that they can do a documentary about. Have a concert that’s so genre-bending, on some John Lennon-type shit. I want to be legendary,” the 22-year-old rapper confides over the phone. Foresight has long been a theme in Rashad’s music, and even outside of it, he’s insistent on steering conversation toward where he’s going, not where he’s been. At this moment, he’s a long way from his hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee—Los Angeles, to be exact—in the home base recording studio of Top Dawg Entertainment, the emerging record label that quietly scooped him up in December 2012. The new dad is finishing his for-sale debut mixtape Clivia Demo, apprehensive of his formal introduction to the world. “It’s like coming out of high school to the pros,” explains Rashad, who dropped out of Tennessee State University to pursue music full time in 2010. “I’m trying not to get caught up in the lights too much.” Unlike most of his Internet generation rap contemporaries, he doesn’t have a pre-cosign project to boast. And while the green lyricist also lacks a degree (he was pursuing mass communications and sociology), it’s that stint on campus that gave him his start. It was there, on TSU’s expansive grounds, where he linked with a cousin who had access to a recording studio. That connection allowed him to graduate from dropping half-hearted rhymes on his high school’s desktop Macs to something more serious. He’d sprinkle the fruit of those sessions onto the web, helping secure a deal after a chance encounter with TDE President Dave Free in 2012. Isaiah Rashad’s breakout record “I Shot You Down” is a chest-beating adrenaline rush juxtaposed by serene woodwinds, but don’t look to it as a signifier of his latest tracks. “This new music, it’s bouncy, real smooth,” says Rashad, whose nimble flow recalls a countrified Kendrick Lamar, despite growing up a Master P diehard. “It’s pretty chill but it’s got this aggressive tone at the same time, so it’s not boring. Coming to L.A. made me happy again. I’m at the beach for nine months recording my first project. My outlook on the world is still growing.” As his panorama expands, Rashad is in constant quest of finding his truest self—not filling hip-hop caricatures. “I ain’t the crazy dude and I ain’t the villain or no shit like that,” he says in a slight Tennessean twang. “I’m a real 22-year-old, not a 22-year-old trying to play rapper. I’m going to make my mark and go live in Australia or some shit. Spend a week or two in India and meditate. Come back with some crazy-ass sounds.”
This story appears in VIBE’s Winter 2014 Race Issue, featuring Drake and Kevin Hart.