By Joseph Gray //
Isaiah Rashad is a liar. On the surface that sounds absurd, considering how unregretful the Chattanooga, Tenn., emcee is about wearing his desires, anxiety and near self-demise on his sleeves. Hundreds of restless LA-area residents who were at Echoplex last Monday can vouch for my improbable story, though they’d also probably say how happy they were to be duped by the Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) member.
On this night, as part of Red Bull Sound Select’s 30 Days in LA series, Rashad, TDE’s talented outlier, was originally scheduled to arrive onstage around 10:20 p.m. Yet, nearly an hour later, fidgety concertgoers were still jockeying for position in the darkened Echoplex tucked under an overpass not far from downtown LA.
With liquid courage taking over one attendee as he attempted to start altercations during anxious “Zaywop” (Rashad’s nickname) chants for the 25-year-old, there was a brief reprieve coming in the form of Mansionair, a Sydney-based band that mixed exceptional vocals with sweet electro-soul, culminating in a cool surprise as they brought out a full choir to perform with them for the first time ever. Despite the well-liked appetizer that came after Sampa the Great’s passionate set, the apprehension for more was palpable until Rashad’s DJ emerged, signaling it was almost time for the real fun to begin.
And when it did, Rashad torpedoed onto stage and turned the restlessness in the room on its head with “Smile”, the apropos homecoming banger he released after years of uncertainty that followed his 2014 EP Cilvia Demo. It was fitting because prior to his reemergence, which was sparked by the song, Rashad admitted to being addicted to Xanax and alcohol, and it almost led to him being dropped from his West Coast record label on several occasions.
From his issues with substance abuse to the tears he shed while listening to Kid Cudi’s music and his open-book thoughts on the humanizing of mental-health issues, Rashad’s journey from being the contemplative unknown in superstar Kendrick Lamar’s crew to a complete artist deserving of your attention has been steeped in honesty.
One song down and beads of sweat already dripping down his face, Rashad nevertheless promised that despite the frenzy that Sampa the Great and Mansionair created, his show in support of his latest release The Sun’s Tirade wouldn’t be too crazy. That, though, couldn’t have been more of a lie.
Manipulating fans of all ages with a nimble flow that was heightened to match the crowd’s energy, Rashad excitedly took us to the same place where his reflections have led him during his two-year hiatus. And not to be outdone by a couple of surprises, but he brought out rapper Hugh Augustine for “Tity and Dolla” before he really took things up another level.
The latter revelation came in the form of songstress SZA, Rashad’s TDE labelmate who assisted, danced and caused a near trampling of excited women near the stage as the two bounced smiles off each other while performing “Stuck in the Mud”. Folks were more than appeased at this point, but the good vibes kept on coming.
“Wop! 4r Da Squaw, dog?! Where’s 4r Da Squaw?!”
One spectator in the audience let me move in front of him to photograph Rashad with the promise that I’d switch spots during “4r Da Squaw”, a shared album favorite about growth which was repeatedly requested after Rashad finished each song. Considering it’s more of a slower-paced song, I wasn’t sure the young fan would get his wish during Rashad’s hour-long set, but soon after the guest appearances by Augustine and SZA, I made good on my promise when “4r Da Squaw” finally came on.
Even though Lamar was not in attendance on this night, Rashad let the crowd fill in for the Grammy winner during his rapid-fire guest spot on “Wat’s Wrong”. And when Lamar’s verse got to the part about his desires to vandalize President-elect Donald Trump’s headquarters, the left-leaning crowd erupted as expected.
Moving the focus toward a vote all could agree on, Rashad called for his groovy single “Free Lunch” to christen his feel-good show. Soon after, more “Zaywop!” chants would resume, this time beckoning Rashad to return for an encore, but when they eventually went unanswered, fans dispersed knowing their patience was still well worth the wait.
R.I.P. Kevin Miller
Tity & Dolla (with Hugh Augustine)
Rope // Rosegold
Stuck in the Mud
Ronnie Drake (with SZA)
Warm Winds (with SZA)
4r Da Squaw
Find a Topic (Homies Begged)
m.A.A.d. city (Kendrick Lamar cover)