As human beings, we love to witness a good come-up story. Told and experienced in different iterations since the beginning of time, the classic tale of overcoming outrageous odds to eventually reach greatness will never get old.
Hip-hop is inherently ripe with these types of stories as it’s, unfortunately, one of the few ways for impoverished young men and women to escape from the harsh conditions of their youth. We’ve heard multiple stories of chance encounters with label executives or artists themselves that miraculously evolve into legitimate career beginnings for struggling artists.
Big Sean, one of hip-hop’s current top-tier artists, famously got his start by rapping for Kanye West outside a local Detroit radio station, and we’ve seen everyone from Young Thug to Pusha T bombarded by aspiring stars outside clubs, in parking lots, or just walking down the street.
Back in July, Rick Ross was approached on the Venice Beach boardwalk by one such aspiring emcee named Isa Muhammad, who treated the MMG founder to an unforgiving three-minute freestyle as onlookers stood slack-jawed, hanging on every punchline and Transformers reference.
Ross was apparently so impressed by Isa’s skill set that he signed the then-homeless spitter to his MMG imprint to round out a roster already boasting names like Meek Mill, Wale, Stalley and Rockie Fresh.
A couple weeks ago, just five months after being discovered on the streets of Venice Beach, Isa Muhammad released his debut mixtape, Diabolical Bastard Billionaire Genius, and if this first release is any indication, we’ve just witnessed the beginning of the next great hip-hop come-up story.
On Diabolical Bastard Billionaire Genius, Isa sounds like an emcee that’s already years deep into finding his artistic voice and style. Mixing the gritty unorthodox flows of Gunplay with the street-bred wisdom of Stalley, Isa sounds like a fitting expansion to the MMG roster.
Throughout the 25-track mixtape, Isa shines over a range of production choices, showing that he’s just as comfortable alongside veteran rappers like Curren$y and Rozay himself, as he is holding down the fort on his own, with 23 of the tape's tracks containing no features whatsoever.
Isa’s blend of hyperbolic braggadocio and revolutionary references give him a lyrical potency reminiscent of Jay Electronica, with the added bonus of actually putting out a project. Tracks like “Isa Mane,” “Elijah Muhammad” and the tape’s opener “BlackLivesMatter” showcase the very ferocity you’d expect from someone who’s managed to escape dire conditions and refuses to go back, but with a properly suited veneer undoubtedly fostered by the veteran experience of Ross and his MMG compatriots.
With this tape, Isa cements himself as far from a gimmicky PR stunt, a genuinely talented emcee that has plenty to say and the ability to do so with swagger, intelligence, and precision.
If Isa can continue to produce material like Diabolical Bastard Billionaire Genius—a promising prospect considering his debut was crafted in just five months—it looks like we’re about to witness one of the most compelling come-ups in recent hip-hop history.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.
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