The dictionary defines the word demo as: a demonstration of a product or technique. In music, a demo is a collection of songs that are meant to demonstrate the capabilities of a performer. Back in the day, before the internet changed the rules, artists would be signed based on if the label saw potential in their demo recording. That’s no longer the case in 2016. Mixtapes and albums are being solicited in A&R’s Instagram comments instead of physical demo’s being passed around outside of offices. I thought it was weird that Isaiah Rashad decided to name his debut project Cilvia Demo, especially for an artist that was already signed to a label. But hearing the project changed my mind, it made perfect sense, it defined what a demo used to mean: a demonstration of capabilities.
I didn’t love Cilvia Demo on first listen. I didn’t love it on the second or the third. Isaiah was like that new kid in school - you don’t click immediately, but after a few weeks you find the common ground that will make you bestfriends forever. Cilvia Demo were songs from the mind of a young, twenty-something, southern black man who was facing himself while facing the world. When that connection was finally made, I was finally able to see myself in his introspective Chattanooga tales. It wasn’t just what he said, but how he said it - the way he illustrated this world was slick and precise. That’s what he has in common with Kendrick, both are imaginative when it comes to words, adding complexity to the commonplace, the kind of artists that could make a stick figure look like a Picasso.
Isaiah’s greatest strength was how opened he appeared. The opening track is a very raw introduction to the relationship he has with his father. He digs into his vices, his fears, his blackness, his thoughts of suicide, and more touching subjects with an unflinching honesty. He was a new artist, with a demo that allowed the listener to see him for who he is. I find that the people who were most touched, seemed to be reaching their twenties, finding a kindred spirit with the southern wordsmith. In the three years since his disappearance, the Demo never stopped playing. It went from being a demonstration of talent to a classic amongst his followers.
Isaiah’s return has been long awaited. He was a few years away from getting the Frank Ocean treatment. His disappearance wasn’t without reason - he had to face some very real demons and overcome personal trials to stand before us again. An artist has the ability to turn their hellish days into heavenly art - Isaiah has done it before, and I’m excited to see if he will do it again.
Even though I’m full of excitement the 1-Listen rules still apply: no stopping, no fast forwarding, no rewinding, - a straightforward listen while documenting my gut-reactions to the music. Welcome back old friend.
1. "where u at?"
Let's get it. Isaiah recommended hearing this in the car but I can’t type and drive. Someone talking to Isaiah is naming the months, and letting him know how long we've been waiting for his next thing. This guy embodies all our emotions in 44 seconds. He’s my best friend now.
2. "4r Da Squaw"
Some gentle chords. Talking. Laughing. A nice gentle bounce, Isaiah's flow blends the rapping and melodic rhyming so effortlessly. He doesn't rap, he surfs on beats. I don't know what paying bills, the moon, and the sun have to do with each other but Zay somehow worked them all into this first verse. The rasp on his voice makes the singing sound like that drunk uncle who loves to sing at karaoke. I mean this in the best possible way. I really like this beat, it's easy on the ears. Second verse flow has him stretching out the last word in the rhyme like a rubberband. This is cool. It’s really laidback. “You ain’t nothing but a baby your fear is growing up” - Isaiah still writing about my life.
3. "Free Lunch"
I probably love this song more than any meal I ever ate at school. The production has the most infectious bounce, there’s no sitting still once the first drum drops. I would love to hear a southern remix with some down south legends. Isaiah has one of the most unique flows in all of rap. It’s almost bizarre once you look at the lyrics and see how he plays with words. "Only real niggas in my condoms" is the craziest sperm reference I've ever heard. Should be in the running for hook of the year. Zay songs are never very long, he understands not overstaying his welcome. I hope this is the project’s tempo. If it stays at this level I’ll be bouncing all night.
4. "Rope" (ft. Sir) // "rosegold"?"
This already sounds a bit different than usual Isaiah. He’s singing in a tone that is very different. The beat is bizarre, it’s eccentric, funky, and quirky, something that Andre 3000 would’ve rapped on in the Stanknoia-era. I love the background singing, Isaiah is singing the blues about his father. It feels like there’s a lot going on. A bit of madness. A lot of melancholy. The drums and that bass and the funky guitar closing it out. So I guess rope ends, and “Rosegold” begins. Far more minimal. Slum Village came to mind as I sink into this loop. “I got the music for the vibers.” Yeah this is a vibe. This is abstract. I like this. Feels very nostalgic. He just mentioned 1999 so I’m certain there’s a sample from that time frame. The song suddenly stopped and he’s talking...
5. "Wat's Wrong?" (ft. Zacari & Kendrick Lamar)
Just got hit with a double dose of an angel's voice. Fast flow Rashad is going faster than a highspeed chase. He’s floating, definitely one of the more straightforward performances thus far. Flow switch was clean. I’m assuming Zacari is the singing voice I’m hearing - it's giving me CeeLo vibes. Is Isaiah trying to be the next Dungeon Family member? KENDRICK LAMAR. Kendrick and Zay finally got one. Alien voice Kendrick tells you the gloves are off and he has his shovel ready to bury the beat. Breathless flow Kendrick + Alien voice Kendrick makes for a certified classic. Kendrick said he’s been the best rapper since he was 25 and he’s 29 NOW!? Drake is going to be sick when he hears this. Hope Rihanna is good at consoling egos. The end of this holiday weekend will be a think piece apocalypse. This is a keeper. Isaiah is really about setting an ambiance. The music is so light, which is interesting knowing how heavy his voice is. Loving his flow in this second verse. Funny I just wrote about how Isaiah songs are short, but man the last two have been quite the ride around the block. I’m really interested in the woman’s voice. Whatever the sample is, very angelic. Like Trap gospel music. There’s a skit at the end. Isaiah talking about giving his dad Ciliva Demo for the first time.
I really need more of Isaiah's dad reviewing the demo. “Park” came out a last week. “All of my limits can die” is the official mantra for 2016-2017. “Park” is a little slow, but the aggression and Zay’s voice and the elegance of the production is an interesting contrast. He’s charged up and it's infectious. Plenty of quoatbles. I love how he says I'm not a savage after saying he wanted to piss on a rapper. Threatening to piss on somebody's family is a level of disrespect that I hope to never reach. What could happen that would make a person even think about taking a real leak on a family tree. Even pissing on a grave is pretty extreme. Don’t piss off Zay because you know what he will do.
7. "Bday" (ft. ft. Deacon Blues & Kari Faux)
I'm happy with the album so far but I'm still waiting for a song to knock my soul right out my chest. He sounds a bit distant from the microphone here. But there’s a few lines catching my ear. I laughed at him pondering how you tell the truth to a crowd of white people. Kaepernick has taught me it’s not that easy. I’m getting serious Outkast vibes. The way he’s delivering the hook is definitely coming from a deep 90’s southern influence. I like this, but it's a bit slow. His voice sounds extra raspy - that post-Hennessy rasp. Kari Faux has a nice voice. She appears at the end for the closing bridge. But to be honest I have no idea what that song is about. There wasn't a single Happy Birthday or cake or candles.
8. "Silkk Da Shocka?" (ft. Syd)
So slow, so pleasant, so sad. Isaiah and Syd tag teaming the vocals. I don’t know what this has to do with Silk Da Shocka, but this is definitely a sad song dedicated to an old love. A melancholy love letter. There's beauty in the sadness, though. This may be sadder than “West Savannah.” I’m starting to pick up traces of a theme. Is The Sun’s Tirade a concept album? Melodic rap Isaiah is setting the vibe. Is he talking about snorting powder? This song takes a dark turn - a real dark turn... but it sounds so light. The song ends with someone telling Zay to find a topic.
9. "Tity and Dolla?" (ft. Hugh Augustine & Jay Rock)
Tity and Dolla - is this an homage to Playaz Circle? OHHHHHH THIS KNOCKS. OH YES YES YES! Isaiah is burning a hole in this banger. This is going to be the one for the trunk. Did he say he just needs to get rid of his kidney? Listen to the lyrics! I wish this came right after “Free Lunch” and I would’ve bounced right out of my skin. Hugh Augustine’s name sounds familiar. He has a cool flow, some nice wordplay. Who is this whistling? Jay Rock is underrated for how he's always finding inventive ways to keep his verses refreshing. He doesn’t have the widest palette, Jay Rock keeps it real, and the real is all I ever care to hear from him. This one's in the running for my favorite.
10. "Stuck In The Mud?" (ft. SZA)
Isaiah and SZA are TDE’s wonder twins. Put them together and magic happens. A duet style intro and they sound like two angels doing the tango. The first verse is reflective. Some interesting sounds weaving in the background. Production is airy, gives a feeling that you’re walking through his mind. Isaiah needs to Genius all his lyrics. I wonder who wrote this hook? I’m enjoying the songwriting and delivery. Verse ends, and the beat changes. “Pop a Zanny make your problems go away.” Alcohol and Xanax references. There's been references to his vices that are starting to sound more extreme. I like the drum patterns. I need to sit with this one but I like it. There’s an abstractness to Isaiah's lyricism that takes a minute to register. You can’t devour the music without giving the content a minute to digest. The track's going just a bit too long at the end. Maybe I’m just tired.
11. "A lot"
No more features the rest of the album is just Zay. Heard the Eardrummers tag? Is this Mike-WiLL? Yeah those drums, this is Mike. The bounce is pretty crazy. Isaiah sounds like he’s in sleep-walking zombie mode. He’s like the drunk friend who is slurring about all the things he’s going to get once he signs his record deal for a billion dollars. I feel like I’m too sober and too broke for "A Lot." Is this what it sounds like when you get out of the mud? The beat is strong, this is turn up music, even though he sounds so turned down.
Rich Homie Rashad? He sounds exactly like Quan back when he promised to never stop going in. I like this. Tempo has been very important to this album. There’s a tone and vibe that’s been set. This is a great balance of bounce and Isaiah singing/rapping. It’s catchy and captivating. This is one you let bang from start to finish and just vibe out. I’ll be coming back to "AA" a few times.
13. "Dressed Like Rappers"
A nice knock and a warm bassline. A slower flow is a bit out of Isaiah's element, but this beat is perfect driving music. So far I really do see the promise in this album being a part of many long drives. I like. The song stops. Sad, I wanted this one to go on for a bit longer. Another voice, talking about Isaiah telling him about something he saw on his Wikipedia page. It's hilarious to think people call you about something they see on your Wikipedia. Isaiah was born in '91, the year of Golden Children.
14. "Don't Matter"
OHHHH. This is giving me "Bombs Over Baghdad" flashbacks. These drums patterns and this tempo - it’s not a replica, but I feel an nostalgic similarity. This might be the most up-tempo beat on the entire song. Isaiah is keeping up, out of his element, but not overwhelmed by the new sonic environment. All the mentions of pimps and hoes - I wonder if he leans closer toward Big Boi or 8 Ball & MJG. This one is short, but a surprise.
The tempo went right back down. That sax in the background; this has a TPAB aura. Terrace is that you? I wonder how much Kendrick influences TDE artists. Oh yes, some songs just hit you instantly. This is good. This feels more in Zay’s zone. I read on Twitter that Brenda is the name of his grandmother who passed away before Cilvia Demo. Second verse is stepping into the mouth of a dragon. Straight heat. “Mix that Boosie with that Boom-Bap” should be it’s own genre of rap music. Isaiah’s singing has grown on me throughout this entire project. He makes it work.
16. "by george (outro)"
This beat feels like we’re in the twilight zone. Like some alternate reality. The upside down. This is dope. THIS IS REAL DOPE. I’m not exactly sure what Isaiah is saying. It’s almost like he’s thinking out loud but also being wrapped up in the beat. There’s an interesting background vocal, I can’t tell if it’s a sample or not. It has a nice feeling, relaxing, you can vibe right out even if he’s a bit incoherent. Will take another listen when I'm allowed.
17. "Find a Topic (homies begged)"
Production is cut from the same cloth of “Free Lunch.” These strings are a thing of beauty. This is straight honey. Southern honey. I love the chords, and the bonce. Gotta bop your head, tap a foot and let the shoulders get loose to this one. And then it ends.
The hardest part of the 1-Listen Review is trying to summarize everything you just heard into cohesive thoughts when your mind spends the entire time spinning. It’s hard to truly grasp content with Isaiah, his way of rhyming is slick, cryptic, and takes a few listens to decipher.
Take his old way with words and throw them in a new sonic playground and you spend your entire first listen lost in the ambiance. At times The Sun's Tirade felt slow, like the pace was imbalanced, but the music stayed compelling. The drums have swing, the beats have bounce, hearing this in the car will be an entirely different listening experience. But also the lyrics; Zay has content, stories, and feelings that you want to sit with and hear within the privacy of your home, somewhere that allows you to be alone with your thoughts. Because the mood gets dark. The sun doesn't shine that bright.
The Sun’s Tirade makes you want to be in motion and also sit in one place. I feel like there’s a theme, one that I’m not certain of yet. I need time with The Sun's Tirade the same way I needed time with Cilvia. It's such a rush, even at it’s slowest you find yourself sinking into the feeling. The years have brought growth. Zay has changed, evolved, but the traits that made him an artist to adore are still in place. He's the old friend who returns to town with a bag of new tricks to keep things new, keep things fresh.
The Sun’s Tirade is truly a new page in the book of Isaiah. And it’s one hell of a read.
By Yoh, aka YohWOP, aka @Yoh31.
Photo Credit: TDE