Chattanooga, Tennessee-born rapper, Isaiah Rashad, says he’s a “learn by doing” kind of person. To get to where he is today, which includes Billboard charting albums and the recent release of his latest (and critically acclaimed) LP, The House Is Burning, Rashad first spent a lot of time observing and studying. He felt comfortable, as they say, posting up in the back of the proverbial room with his eyes open and mind working. Then, when the time was right, he leveraged these observations into action. Rashad says he’s never felt particularly rushed about a project. In fact, his new album is his first in five years. But, it would seem, the patience and hard work have paid off. On Rashad’s new offering, you can feel the time and experience baked in. It’s dense, wide, and varied. And for Rashad, the release has put him squarely on the map, a new big name for award shows and fans to target.
“I haven’t won a lot of shit in my life,” Rashad says. “It would be cool to change that narrative. I’m aware that a lot of my favorites have not won awards but they at least got nominated —so, why not? Really, I just want to get something I can take home to my mama.”
Rashad, who just released a new video and announced a new tour, grew up in the ‘90s. As such, he says, the radio played a major role in his life. Even before he admitted to himself that he wanted to be an emcee, he would make playlists, recording songs off the dial with the boombox he earned from making honor role in 5th grade. He’d make fake radio shows, acting as host in between sets, using the boombox’s built in microphone. More recently, as an adult, Rashad has taken his love of compilations to a professional level. In 2014, he released his debut studio record, Cilvia Demo. He followed that up with The Sun’s Tirade in 2016. This year marked his biggest achievement yet.
“The mindset and idea from jump,” he says, “was to express the range of the music that I like to make and I like to listen to without making something that didn’t sound incohesive.”
He says he wants to improve upon the quality of his 2016 release. Rashad wants to make something more refined. Yet at the same time, Rashad, who like everyone contains multitudes, says he also just made the music he wanted to make in the moment for his new record. Now, as a result of following his well-bred instincts, he’s accumulated millions of streams and much new attention.
“I just be making shit, bro,” he says, with an openness. “The other shit is kind of in the back of your head, the determination shit. But I try not to go into any music with any type of pressure. That’s usually when I make my worst music.”
Today, Rashad says he feels proud of the work. Or at least a strong sense of relief because of it. He doesn’t have the weight of all those tracks on his back anymore. He’s opened the damn and the water has flooded through. Now, there is a bit more ease to the days, until the metaphorical water builds back up, of course.
“The biggest thing is,” he says, “I don’t feel like I got a weight on my back, carrying a whole bunch of music, stuff I want to share with people.”
Now, says the 30-year-old songwriter, it’s about what’s next for him, personally and professionally. But knowing when that next thing you make is good enough to share is always a difficult question to answer. Rashad, a student of music as much as he is a producer of it, knows what he knows because of experience.
“I know from learning from it,” Rashad says. “Looking at other stuff that I would say is good. From building a good filter. If I can throw [one of my songs] in a playlist I like and it doesn’t sound dated or out of place but still might sound a little forward. Usually, you just know, like, ‘Damn this is a good idea!’ I’ve been doing this for a while. And I hate my shit, so for it to impress myself is a feat in itself. ”
As Rashad takes his newfound adulation and begins to look at the future post-his latest release, he says he feels fortunate there was more of a longer, circuitous route to his success. Some people, he notes, begin to plot everything out as soon as they hit their teens. But for Rashad, who listened first and paid attention, and then began in earnest in the business, patience was a supreme virtue.
“I didn’t make big plans,” Rashad says. “But there’s only so much you can do with rap in your own head. So, I studied, and I took my time.”