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We all know, or at some point in our lives, have known someone that is dealing with addiction. Albeit, said addiction may not be apparent or explicitly shown by the person dealing with that problem. Narcotics, alcohol, and sexual addictions are some of the more prevalent vices that tend to get out of hand. We all have our vices: maybe it’s an extra piece of red velvet cake after a stressful day or the occasional cigarette after a long week at the office. It could even be binge-watching several television shows in a two-day span in order to escape reality for a weekend. Addiction is not always in the form of illegal activity but addiction is most certainly human. There is an illusion of control, however, for the more serious types of addiction. Once all control is lost, grave and dangerous repercussions can occur. Addiction can truly take hold over someone’s life in a plethora of different ways. Whether it be in social relationships with friends becoming strained or lapses of productivity leading to poor performance at work, full-blown addictions are an untamed, detrimental beast in the name of one’s self-improvement.
Everything in moderation, including moderation. – Oscar Wilde
More often than not, the stranglehold placed by the metaphorical beast of addiction deprives someone of sincere moments of organic enjoyment when they are not sedated. “Chasing that high” by overindulgence with any particular vice frees the grips of the stranglehold, which, in turn, elevates the individual to a euphoric plane of sheer bliss on Cloud 9. When the rush of initial endorphins to brain dissipate, the descent is not a pleasant one for the individual. Wash, rinse, repeat, but this time, with a higher dosage to attempt the emulation of the meteoric rise of pleasure during the first taste of artificial peace. Typically, the initial state of artificial peace and euphoria does not get recreated, leaving the person that is struggling with an empty and despondent feeling for not reaching this goal. A mental spiral downwards into the grips of the untamed beast means a stumble to the basement of an unhappy reality.
Experiencing the ebb and flow during a vicious cycle of addiction, especially with drugs, can lead to an entirely different monster known as depression. Substance abuse issues and depression seem to go hand and hand when discussing either topic. To escape the deflating reality of losing a job, for example, may lead someone to binge-drink copious amounts of alcohol to mask the pain and alter their state of mind. Everything feels great in the moment but several hours later when you wake up with a massive hangover, not only does the pain of this headache fully set in, the problem of being unemployed still exists. A problematic duality may arise when the need to satiate addiction meets the numbing attempts to alleviate depression.
Cilvia Demo by Isaiah Rashad was arguably one of the best projects of 2014. Having been named after his beat-up car that broke down on him a handful of months before getting signed to T.D.E., Cilvia takes you on a ride into a glimpse of Rashad’s life, one bar at a time. For an album with heavy subject matter such as the aforementioned problematic duality of substance abuse and depression, in addition to family issues and money problems that he faced, this 14 track debut project is truly a joy a listen to.
To this day, even though Cilvia Demo was released over 2 and a half years ago on January 28, 2014, the album has tremendous replay value that still sounds brand new with every spin. I challenge you to find a stronger opening start on a hip-hop project from recent memory. From Webbie Flow (Like U) to R.I.P. Kevin Miller to Soliloquy to Menthol, Zaywop does more than just flex his lyrical muscles; he displays incredible transparency by sharing honest quips about some of his life’s ills and stressors to the audience with each stanza.
A very stark and illuminating example of
a rapper an artist expressing himself in such a vulnerable way can be heard in the powerful and sobering track off of Cilvia titled “Heavenly Father.” Depending on where you go to church, I would probably avoid playing this one to your Pastor or Reverend. “Heavenly Father” is a soulful track, layered with harmonizing bluesy vocals by Rashad (can anyone confirm SZA on the additional backing vocals?). What starts off as an open letter or a prayer, this song quickly turns into a confessional that attempts (and succeeds) in reaching out to individuals struggling with addiction and depression.
Look now, I’m praying that I make it twenty-five
They be calling doctors for my health
And “no” is kinda hard to say to drugs
I been having problems with myself
And I been asking questions, where the love?
And they don’t give me answers, just a check
And they don’t know my issues as a child
Cause I was busy cutting on myself
And hanging from the playground wasn’t wrong
Until you got a rope around your neck
And I been losing more than just my mind
Gathering what’s left of self-respect
And Daddy, why you call me while you’re drunk?
And why you never love me when I need it?
And I don’t wanna be like you no more
And I been trying to cope, I’m getting weeded
YouTube comment sections are typically a horrible wasteland where the vilest of vile internet trolls come together to launch insults at unsuspecting middle-aged people just trying to watch cat breading videos. However, the comment section (aside from a few snarky remarks because come on, it’s still a comment section) for “Heavenly Father” shows how impactful the lyrics are. You can view a sampling of the comments below:
Isaiah Rashad, in an 8-month period, did the following: September 2013 – gets signed to T.D.E.; October 2013 – raps alongside labelmates Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q, and Jay Rock for one legendary B.E.T. Cypher; January 2014 – his first major project via Top Dawg Entertainment Cilvia Demo gets released to critical acclaim; March 2014 – embarks on an international tour with Groovy Q in promotion of Oxymoron; May 2014 – gets named one of the 12 Freshman on XXL’s annual list, which featured some names that you’ve probably heard of: Chance the Rapper, Ty Dolla $ign, Jon Connor, Vic Mensa, and Rich Homie Quan. That is quite the impressive run for a fledgeling 23-year-old artist in an “increasingly tough to stay relevant in today’s Attention Deficit Disorder” hip-hop industry. After getting off to such a bombastic start, everything should be smooth sailings, right? Unfortunately, his budding popularity, shift to a higher tax bracket, and constant access to the party scene via the tour life had an adverse effect on the younger rapper.
The Sun’s Tirade, his first official studio album, dropped on September 2, 2016. A full 949 days or 2 years, 7 months, and 6 days between album releases seems like an eternity; but this elongated wait felt particularly long. Although the music from Cilvia provided the audience with continuous and lasting replay value, we did not hear any music from Rashad between January 2014 all the way until smooth and silky “Nelly” was released in September of 2015. No features, no unofficial loosies, nothing. It was as if he completely disappeared from the scene altogether. Well, he did kind of disappear.
Unbeknownst to the public, Isaiah was in the clutches of the metaphorical beasts of addiction and depression. In several promotional interviews such as the hip-hop sketch comedy duo ItsTheReal’s “A Waste of Time,” he revealed that he had a heavy codependency on alcohol and Xanax. These vices acted as a numbing agent for anxiety, depression, and isolation. It makes complete sense for him to have these certain feelings while he was gaining a tremendous amount of steam in the hip-hop game. Even though he was earning the respect of fans, critics and his peers, the level of fame that he reached, at such an accelerated pace, was a novel and most likely a shocking experience to the 23-year-old. Hell, I’m 1 year younger than him and there is no way that I could even fathom the immense amount of pressure he was under on a daily basis. Having to prove your worth in front of a large room full of strangers whilst on tour could not make you feel more alone.
In an in-depth interview for Complex, Isaiah discusses the perpetual vicious cycle and the feeling of “chasing that high” after developing an addiction to alcohol and Xanax. “…but drugs make you depressed afterwards so then you take [more] drugs to stop being depressed briefly and you’re more depressed afterwards, so you’ve gotta figure it out…Take enough Xanax and you won’t be able to achieve that reward feeling—dopamine and all that s**t—so alcohol, too much of that s**t, you’ll never be able to get that high again.” Most of the problems that were exhibited on Cilvia were exacerbated due to having more funds in the bank account and easy accessibility to these terrible vices.
According to his interview with the Rosenberg & Cipha Sounds Podcast “Juan Epstein,” at the peak of this turbulent chapter of his young career, Isaiah almost got “benched” 3 times by being sent home by Top Dawg and dropped from the label entirely. He was also hospitalized with stomach lining problems due to the prescription addiction. Some may say that the greatest breakthroughs in life come after the largest pitfalls in one’s life. Taking time off for reflection and self-actualization has contributed to the rebirth of Zaywop like a Pheonix rising from the ashes. His incandescent flame of potential currently burns as bright as it did 949 days prior to the release of The Sun’s Tirade with Cilvia Demo. I don’t even know this man but I am so f*****g proud of him for beating that horrible pill addiction and creating such a quality project.
Mix that Boosie with that boom-bap!
That lyric off of the beautifully written “Brenda” perfectly encapsulates the overall vibe of The Sun’s Tirade. True Southern vibes where production meets a creative verse structure churns out an authentic sound for those that can appreciate his rendition of an Outkast, Goodie Mob or UGK album. “Stuck in the Mud” featuring TDE’s songstress SZA really garners this genuine, down South feeling. Cool, jazzy beat with a relaxed delivery without trying too hard on this one, Zaywop describes this rocky time period in his life where he literally felt stuck in the mud.
At the same time, there’s a little East Coast influence sprinkled throughout the album like the gritty and aggressively delivered track titled “Park.” I love the way that the album has a quality assortment of different kinds of sounds that truly display Rashad’s range as, not just a rapper, but an artist. For example, the drowsy and airy song titled Silkk da Shocker feature Syd (from The Internet and Odd Future fame) has this mellow and laid back feel that doesn’t focus on spittin’ much of anything. The distorted vocals that are prevalent throughout the album and that are also very much present on this song, make both artists sound like they’re taking their time to accentuate the meaning behind and strength behind each word of this love song. The atmosphere that Zay and Syd create feels like regrouping yourself and trying to make sense of the world around you the morning after a long night of partying.
Conversely, “A lot” is one of those lowkey bangers that will put you in a disorienting state of mind from the night before. This Mike WiLL laced production is alright when heard through regular earbuds but holy s**t, when you bump it using a sound system or high quality over the ear headphones, you will get in a complete zone where you feel invincible. I listen to “A lot,” a lot. It puts me in a good mood and even though it’s far from his lyrical peak, it’s one of my favorite tracks off of the album and you can’t tell me otherwise. If there was a track that was considered the pregame to sandwich in between “Silkk da Shocker” and “A lot” to complete this trilogy, it would have to be “Bday.” One of the more laid back songs with true grassroots Southern vibes, “Bday” is a very introspective track from an individual that seems to be reflecting on life while having a good time in the process.
Play me, n***a I’m faded
N***a I feel like 25 babies
It’s gone, drunk, lookin’ like a robber
Headed to the church or headed to the brothel
Poppin’ my collar, really like Bieber
How do you tell the truth to a crowd of white people?
Made it, motivational speaker, bumpin’
Most time tellin’ my teacher somethin’
However, there are plenty of tracks off of The Sun’s Tirade where lyrical nourishment in a true hip-hop sense can be found. Isaiah and Kendrick both snap on the harrowing and obvious choice for best song on the album titled “Wat’s Wrong” featuring the great vocal harmonics of Zacari (I need to educate myself on his music). I mean, Kendrick gon’ Kendrick, but I was truly impressed at the versatility of Rashad on this track when he spazzes out of control with bars to open up the song while toward the end, he switches it up to more of a slow and lethargic pace. It’s like he was juxtaposing his verses with the substance of his lyrics: at first, when you’re geeked up on drugs, you have this certain burst of energy and towards the end, you become burnt out and you notice all of the disappointments as a result of “chasing that high.”
My personal favorite song off of the entire album would have to be Dressed Like Rappers. I instantly gravitated towards this song because of the unique instrumental. The brevity and directness in the lyrics on this track are truly something to appreciate. Here, Isaiah gives a direct testimonial about his problems during the time period between albums:
I can admit
I’ve been depressed, I hit a wall, ouch
I hit the bank, you hit the dab
I hit the ball, out
Praying God pay my cable
Splurging out one more favor
Little boys dressed like rappers
Can that road make them daddies?
I talked to God
I got approve, I got a lifeline
If I should die
While I’m awake, I had a nice time
Tity and Dolla featuring Jay Rock and Hugh Augustine, 4r Da Squaw (heard below), and the song that could turn into a lowkey mainstream hit “AA” (I’m like granny with the whip!) are among the other standouts. I damn near listed every track as a great one, which shows how highly I think of the project. Besides “Don’t Matter,” there was not a track that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. Without being overly lyrical with every single track, Isaiah Rashad keeps the listener interested in a bevy of different ways. By staying true to his authentic sound and his Southern Roots, Zaywop did not disappoint with his comeback album. And this literally was a comeback. Substance abuse issues, depression, and quite frankly, mental health issues in general, are no joke. This is a close topic to me because I have lost some friends in the past due to drug addictions. Some are still living that are figuratively out of my life; some aren’t that are literally out of my life. When addiction spirals out of control, more than just relationships become strained. Families get broken, entire communities get hurt, individuals become lost. I truly commend Isaiah Rashad for breaking his old habits and realizing that he can fight back against his metaphorical beast.
He finally broke through that wall to create one of the best hip-hop CDs of 2016, which has truly been a year to remember in music. Bravo, Zaywop.
Isaiah Rashad – The Sun’s Tirade – 4.5/5
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