Tuesday, 11 March 2014

''Cilvia Demo'' Isaiah Rashad - A Review

The last time we witnessed the release of a Top Dawg Entertainment project was October 2012, when a certain album entitled good kid, m.A.A.d city was dropped by Kendrick Lamar. It took about a month for Lamar's second studio album to be declared a hip-hop classic and elevate him to stardom so naturally enough the TDE brand has exploded since, and as new found fans and rap connoisseurs dug backwards into the group's cataloue revealing more first rate work from Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock and Ab Soul, it became apparent that Top Dawg are only beginning to get ready for a period of domination over the rest of the rap world.

And so it follows that Isaiah Rashad, the 22 year old newcomer who signed to TDE last May, has received enough buzz from hip-hop heads to scare away the most seasoned of rappers, but on his debut mixtape/album/EP Cilvia Demo, you can't hear a single moments hesitiation or uncertainty. The Black Hippy apprentice breezes through these 14 tracks on his debut much the same way as his mentor Lamar did back in 2011 on Section .80, and the similarities with that album don't end there as the young debutant vividly recalls Kendrick's early work throughout Cilvia Demo, an album steeped in nostalgia, deep thought and refelctive raps over high quality beats.

The album seems to follow a chronological vibe that begins with ''Hereditry'', a dreamy opener that recalls bad lessons that Rashad learnt from his father before ''Webbie Flow'' pays tribute to Webbie, a southern rapper who exercised a big influence over the young rapper in his teenage years and the title track recounts tales of deliquency in the city as a young man. It's ''Cilvia Demo'' and ''R.I.P Kevin Miller'' in particular early on that demonstrate a seriously impressive smooth flow balanced with passionate delivery, and these two tracks stand out as a highlights by the end of the album, aided by great production from Joseph The Stranger and Black Metaphor, two of a variety of producers on the tracklist.

The mid section features a duo of collaborations on ''Ronnie Drake'' and ''West Savannah'' between Rashad and label mate SZA, which utilize a chilled R&B vibe due to nice vocal work from SZA that would almost hint at a romantic connection between the two if it weren't for Rashad's long-time girlfriend and son who he pays tribute to regularly on the album. There's plenty of tribute to go around for his music influences too, as Isaiah makes his idols more known and pronounced than most, shouting out to Outkast and Master P among others throughout.

As the record approaches its end we are provided with some of the best tracks it has to offer, as ''Tranquility'' showcases Rashad in deep thought, searching for meaning in his heritage and question religion while demonstrating a regretful, apologetic tone for previous flaws and sins committed in his youth and detailed on earlier tracks. ''Menthol'' was an already released single dropped to create hype for the album and it's easy to see why it was chosen with low key, piano laced production from Sounwave (Mark Spears, the man behind ''Bitch Don't Killy My Vibe'' and ''m.A.A.d city'') making this a highlight, while ''Heavenly Father'' asks ''if I tell my story would they book me for a show'' in perhaps the most Kendrick spit image moment of the record.

Cilvia Demo ends with ''Shot You Down'', a 7 minute remix of an early single by Rashad that dropped last year and by some margin the most ill fitted track on this album with its hard delivery, braggdocio rap and star power in the form of label mates Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock. But that's not to say it's a negative way to end things; in fact, ''Shot You Down'' makes for the best hip-hop track of 2014 so far and acts as a credits piece to an album in which Rashad has spent the majority in a state of self examination. This is the sound of Rashad celebrating alongside his established rap star friends as he joins them on the path to glory, effortlessly besting their verses and making himself the main attraction despite their own skill and execution.

And really that summarizes much of Isaiah Rashad's entry on the rap scene with Cilvia Demo- this is a fearless, relaxed introduction to a major new talent who is about to explode. It's actually striking how relatively quietly Cilvia Demo is being received right now considering the ability Rashad offers on it; just like everyone who was introduced to Kendrick Lamar on good kid, listened back on Section .80 and wondered how they could possibly have missed it in the first place, Cilvia Demo feels underappreciated in a good way, as though it's just waiting to be recognised on reflection when Rashad becomes the fully realized beast he threatens throughout this 49 minutes.

And once again speaking of Cilvia Demo's vivid likeness to Lamar's major debut, it's not strange to contemplate and ponder the fact that this might just be as good as that album. It's certainly the best material TDE has dropped aside from K's output, and if what happened next is anything to go by, then one must only assume Isaiah Rashad is destined for great things. An equally important factor that's evident is that he seems ready for them too; when asked by Sway last year about the immense hype and expectation that followed his appointment to TDE, Rashad's reply was simple: ''There's no pressure, I just gotta rap good.''


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