Published Mar 12, 2014For 22-year-old Isaiah Rashad, what started as a chance meeting with Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith turned into whirlwind career with one of the most powerful labels in hip-hop today. The small-town Chattanooga, TN native signed with West coast label TDE last year, joining the ranks of Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock and SZA respectively, and shortly after became rap's rising star without even having a project under his belt. It's been a month since Isaiah Rashad released his debut EP Cilvia Demo, and Exclaim! had a chance to sit down with the young spitter to discuss his recent success, higher powers and the truth behind criticism.
Cilvia Demo was noted to be one of the most anticipated projects to drop in recent memory long before its release. How did that affect the recording process?
I didn't really know it was highly anticipated, I just thought it was ready to be highly criticized. [Laughs] The reception was tight! It didn't factor into the process of it. It was more about being comfortable. Be comfortable, so they can't criticize on what you make comfortable. For you to stretch beyond yourself or what you think can do, and then people say your stuff sucks... then it's like being at home with yourself — you can't talk about my crib and not like my crib type of shit.
So, what was the recording process like? How long did it take?
It was actually about four, five months. I've only been signed for a year. I made a huge ass project, but the project... that joint I got in only took from like June/August to the end of December, something like that.
Being aligned with a powerhouse label, if something didn't sound right on the project, did you flip it to other people in the TDE crew or do you work it out yourself?
It was just me and my homies — it was just me and my producers Antydote, Chris Calor and Ross Vega. There were only three guys, there was just us. We gave the tracks to Top [Dawg] and he told us what he thought about them, whether he liked them or not and we went from there. He never rejected anything. It was a really free environment.
Has Cilvia Demo met your expectations thus far?
I don't really have expectations for it. I was on the same shit, waiting for it to be highly criticized.
So if you had to bring three albums to a deserted island, would this be one of them?
If I had to listen to it for the rest of my life, yeah. It got "West Savannah." I could listen to "West Savannah" for the rest of my life.
On your come up, you've spoken about turning to people like Max Pete and Z [from DJ Booth] for their input on your music. Why did you choose to reach out to them as opposed to your friends like so many artists choose to do?
They're writers. I respect an opinion when it's said the right way. But I think that's where it can go wrong with having an opinion as criticism and everything — it [can] be like, there's no point of improvement in that criticism. So when they criticized me or had me review the pros and the cons, it was always with the benefit of getting better. They're saying, "These are the parts we didn't like, but we don't hate your stuff"; know what I'm saying? They don't hold back the punches, but they're not just some rude dudes, so I respect them.
Do you still reach out to them about your music now?
Me and Max have been trying together for the longest time. He's in San Fran and I'm L.A. with no car, know what I'm saying? So it's kinda weird. And I'm bouncing around and he's always bouncing around. I haven't gotten the opportunity to meet Z yet, but I'm looking forward to it.
Going back to the "homies," what's the role of the Yes-Man in this industry?
They don't have a place. They take charges. [Laughs]
What's your advice for artists who feel critical criticism is an "attack" on their craft?
Stop caring so much. Stop caring about the negative so much; build from it. Don't just be mad at somebody. Not everything is tight bro, not everything is cool. Nobody comes up with all cool stuff, nobody. [Jokingly points to himself and says "Except me."]
No, probably including you too...
Nah, I got some garbage shit. I got some terrible stuff, man. My mom has that shit. It's all hella old and she tries to play it.
What if she brings it to church?
You can't play my stuff in church, what?! That's too deep for me. I haven't made music for God to listen to yet. That's gotta be some crazy stuff, that's like the next album. I haven't made an album for God yet, for his ears — for his or her ears. But I can't get into that. My idea for that is on some other shit.
There are so many factors that have shaped your development, but some constants are powerful figures and groups, like Gil Scott-Heron or your father's religious faith. How does that play a role in your music?
Man, Gil Scott-Heron is the truth. And my dad's influence on me... man, it's on some: "You gotta have purpose. You have to be speaking for a reason!" These words are not to be wasted, as he would say. There's a reason for it. Gill Scott-Heron always spoke the truth — his truth. And again, it's all about how you say it. Your opinion can't be objected, it's gotta be respected even if somebody doesn't agree with it.
Working with TDE, they've also introduced a new school of thought on the industry and the creative process. Is that something you've always aspired to do or is it something you've learned from them along the way?
I've been thinking like this for a while. I think I just kinda meshed to their ways and agreed with their thoughts. Respect the thoughts! You have no choice but to mesh when there's all respect around. So it's been like that more so than bringing someone else's thoughts in. It feels good to be around people who are like-minded [individuals].
So where's your role in the TDE camp? What do you bring to it?
I'm gonna keep it going further than people thought it would be going. That's really it. Just when you thought it was gonna stop, it's not over. It wasn't over then and it's definitely not going to be over for a long time now.
Moving back to the music, what's your favourite song off Cilvia Demo?
My favorite song off the project is probably "Hereditary," but my favourite songs didn't make the project.
They were formatted really weird and they didn't really fit.
Will they ever be released?
Probably not. After becoming a part of TDE, I don't really like putting out music like that. I don't really like dropping songs like that. I don't think about putting out a song, but think if I put them on a project it'd be tight. Sometimes I think about putting out a song, but then it's like "this would be hella cool if I just waited and let them [fans] hear it together." I try to find the songs that sound okay just throwing them out, but lately it hasn't been like that. Lately, it's been about finding the puzzle piece for the bigger picture. No rush, there are no plans. I don't plan anything, it just happens. The Hiii[gher] Power is working.