One BET Hip Hop Awards Cypher rhyme is all it took to catapult Chattanooga, Tennessee native Isaiah Rashad into the mainstream consciousness. Ultimately though, it was not a case of what he said, but who he said it with—appearing alongside the rising in Rap prominence, Top Dawg Entertainment crew—that mattered. However, it’s in recalling the moments that made us initially love another rapper (with a government name similar to Rashad’s) once known by two names—Common Sense—that makes his 14-track debut Cilvia Demo a hopeful sign for more intriguing and insightful material to come.
There was once a time before dating Serena Williams, wearing tailored suits and starring in major motion pictures that Common was an “artist, formerly known as Sense,” and then was Common Sense who, 22 years ago wanted to borrow a dollar. The same level of no nonsense hustler’s spirit that informed the quick-witted wordplay of Common’s “Take it EZ” in 1992 and existed throughout the early days of Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr.’s early career buoys much of Isaiah Rashad’s mainstream debut release. Rashad’s Cilvia Demo kicks off with “Webbie Flow,” wherein the young emcee raps in effortless couplets and triplets, sounding more like a veteran that’s finally arrived than a neophyte emcee with developing skills. Produced by rising EDM name Mr. Carmack, the track’s jazzy vibe with a boom bap core sets the stage for an entire EP filled with heavy raps over intricate, yet soulful productions.
One of the highlights of listening to Rashad’s veteran-styled approach to Rap is that he’s very adept at creating hooks. Eponymous track “Cilvia Demo,” the love-lorn “Menthol,” and the anything but “Modest” all benefit tremendously from the TDE-affiliate understanding that a great song is as much defined by having the ability to cogently tell a story as much as it is being able to couple those bars with a punctuation that sticks in the mind, aids the soul and can be shouted by a jam-packed arena. It’s in the mastery of the small details that artisans in any field define their ascension to the top of the pack, and in having material with solid hooks, he engenders himself well to potential listeners.
Content may be the one place where Rashad, similar to the aforementioned Common may benefit from depth aided by growth. Thankfully, in the case of Cilvia Demo being very heavy in sex brags, drug tales and classic laid back Southern Rap tropes, from those whom nothing is expected, everything is gained—so the material is only at the beginning of what should be a much more intriguing tale. The names of Master P, Juvenile, Scarface (“Brad Jordan” is his instant classic from the project), OutKast’s debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmusik (on the SZA-aided “West Savannah,” which also features producer Antydote co-opting Iman Omari’s “Energy”) and yes, even one-hit wonder Webbie are all here as necessary touchstones to place Isaiah Rashad as a Southern emcee. However, his perspective is so honest and his skill so great that one only hopes that his artistry will allow him to gain broader access to more cultured viewpoints. As with other members of TDE, Rashad’s insistence on setting a high standard makes you want to get behind him as a potential voice of a new generation of Rap fanatics.
As has become tradition from Top Dawg Entertainment, EP closer “I Shot You Down” is all about people talking loud and saying everything. It’s in Isaiah Rashad, a young man who on the opening track “Hereditary” recounts how “[his] daddy taught [him] how to drink [his] pain away,” and how “[his] daddy taught [him] how to leave somebody,” finding himself in an ideal situation with a crew of guys with similar paths is the heart-warming realization that allows this EP to succeed. Every story and every hook connects on a human level, which in a Rap game moreso than ever defined by absurdity and ephemeral aspirations makes this a worthwhile listen.