Isaiah Rashad's "Cilvia Demo" vs. Mick Jenkins' "The Water[s]"

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It started out as a tweet(s)....

I shot that tweet back to Yohbi Won Kenyohbi and I didn't think much of it. I figured it would just be us two rap nerds rapnerding out about two great artists and their two great projects, but then all of DJBooth Nation started to join in and the debate really got going because the internet (no Gambino). So, instead of letting the debate die, getting buried under the constant sea of struggle rapper tweets, we decided to take to the pages of DJBooth to hash it out.

Now, I wrote "hash it out" like this is some contentious, Jaden Smith type shit, but it's not. In fact, if anything this is to celebrate the fact that two of the best albums of the year came from dudes who are just breaking out. It's remarkable really that these two emcees have gone toe to toe with some of the most popular, major label backed emcees in the game and have more than held their own; real talk, Isaiah's Cilvia EP and Mick's The Water[s] might be my two favorite projects of 2014. Let's take a moment to applaud these two fine young gentlemen on their respective success.

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Okay, now that we've made that clear let's debate.

Team Isaiah or Team Mick, which side are you on? To help you decide, I'll take Team Isaiah and Yohkim Noah is the captain of Team Mick. Rather than try to compare these projects, we are simply going to tell you what we love about each; why each one really stands out to us. Hopefully if we do it like that, it will be more like a celebration than a debate with just the tiniest little bit of debate mixed in. Then, y'all can share your two cents and we can have a dope discussion of two outstanding projects, and what's better than that?


So let's get to it...

Team Isaiah

There is no formula, no algorithm, no recipe for a "best" album. What does "best" mean? "Best" in relation to what? What if three years from now I have totally forgotten about this project? Can it really be the best then? Why can I only type in questions?

"Best" is largely, if not entirely selective. It's so dependent on the person it's hard to really compare. Still, in my opinion one of the cornerstones of a "great" album is replayability. A great album should be able to enjoyed if you are going to the dentist or just sitting at home on a Wednesday. If you are happy or sad. High or drunk. Whatever the context, this great album finds a way to work and in Lucas Garrison's 2014, no album has had more spins than Isaiah's Cilvia EP.

Way back in January, when RefinedHype was still a thing, I wrote about how Rashad's EP turned a cold, shitty day at the dentist into the discovery of a great album. Well, now, it's back to being cold, I'm headed back to the dentist for my obligatory teeth cleaning and I'm still bumping Cilvia, and not just one or two tracks, but the whole album. I still get the same smile I got back in January, when "Heavenly Father" (which has over 104 plays on my iTunes alone) hits my soul. I have been doing the same dance to the "Shot You Down" hook that I did in March. And, seemingly weekly, I get this urge to listen to "Menthol." There is something about the way that song starts that my body craves on a weekly basis. Normally I get cravings for an artist or a style--boom-bap, Jay, or old Wayne--but for the last 49 weeks, I have been getting a craving for the way Isaiah's flow echoes off the whurring beat and the smooth crooning of Jean on the hook. I didn't evenappreciate "Menthol" on the first couple listens and yet now, as I've grown with the album, it's come to be one of my favorites. The songs stay the same, but how, where, and why we experience them will always completely change. The great albums can be heard seven hundred times over the course of seven months and still, you will develop new experiences with them. You will hear the same song in a completely different light and yet, it is equally as enriching.

Just last month, I was in Atlanta for A3C. Anyone who has been to Atlanta knows you must go to Magic City, and everyone who goes to Magic City knows you have to be at least a little bit fucked up; so naturally I had about six beers. It was a great night, but the three hours of sleep and an ass early flight made the following day just awful. Airports are the worst, especially one as massive as Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. As I got to the terminal, carrying my backpack and what was left of my dignity, a wave of nausea hit me, most likely due to the lethal combination of that late night Varsity chili dog and the shots of Fireball. If I was going to make it through the flight, the security, the sea of ankle biters rocking Frozen backpacks, I would need the perfect soundtrack. Something that would wash away the smell of stripper perfume, and shame wafting emanating from my disheveled self. I felt like pig pen from Charlie Brown covered in a fine layer of filth. As I stood in the security line, I shuffled through my phone which always has the latest and greatest and is constantly changing. I went with Cilvia (which has been on there since January, surviving purge after purge) and I could not have been happier. It wasn't easy but I managed to make it through and I owe a lot of that to Rashad. His music just puts me in a good place.

Sure the greasy bacon egg and cheese helped, but really I think it was "Soliloquy." There I was, on the plane waiting to take off, sweating and messing with the tiny ass fan above my middle seat (because they never have the air conditioning on when you are sitting there) and "Soliloquy" came on. Now I have heard it before, but never like this; I really listened. Something about this listen was different and the result was goosebumps and a shiver that climbed each vertebrae like my spine was a rock wall. I closed my eyes and let the "Soliloquy" wash over me and cleanse my sins, and drifted off to sleep (something which I can never do on a flight). I woke up still mildly hungover, but I was home and I owe it all to Rashad. From dentists to flights, Rashad has saved me more than a few times.

This album has endless replayability, because Rashad is so personable on the mic. It's his strongest quality. Back In January, I didn't really know the name, but now we are close friends. From depression, to his father, to 8 Mile references, Rashad connected with me on a more personal level and his ability to do so, and do it in an entertaining way, is what makes Cilvia one of the best projects of the year. After countless listens Rashad is still giving me new sorties and experiences; I'm still hearing Cilvia for the first time. Hungover or not, I'm Team Rashad.

- By Lucas G. (@LucasDJBooth)

Team Mick

"My piss ain't never been so clear, My pockets never been so empty, My heart ain't never been this full, But my stomach is not so my nigga don't tempt me, I'm hungry, I'm thirsty, I'm tired, I'm smoking, It often seems this life that we want is only lost in dreams, Am I getting lost in the thought of myself tryna wake niggas up like a coffee bean?" – "Healer"

It was the poetry that held me captive, from an early age I loved the way rappers conveyed introspection with words. There’s a lot of enjoyment in the partying and bullshit, but the wordsmiths and poets will take you to another world with their imagery and unbelievable, clever lyrical ability. When I first heard The Water[s], it took me back to when I first discovered Lupe.  I’m not comparing the two, but the feeling of hearing lyrics knock you into another stratosphere. There’s a rush, especially after rewinding a song time and time again still uncovering lines you didn’t previously comprehend. I played "Martyrs" an infinite amount of times when it first came across my ears. Nothing is more fulfilling than wordplay that leaves you with the Thanksgiving dinner grin - that’s why I hate Rap Genius; they are the Grinch to the Christmas Gift that is grand lyricism.

"What you ain't never seen a nigga on a Horse? You ain't seen Chief Keef new Porsche?" – "Martyrs"

The Water[s] found me when I needed a tall glass; with all the junk food I was consuming (Migos, Bobby Shmurda, and Makonnen), it came into my life like an angel in the outfield. Sometimes you just need some damn good rap in your life, and Mick brought that. You can hear in his rhymes, he comes from a poetic background. Mick’s careful selection of words and architect like attention to details showed me a serious writer. Everything he says is precise; there isn’t a redundant line, or unnecessary bar throughout the entire album. There’s a balance of social commentary, punch lines, symbolism, metaphors, and reality raps to keep you engrossed until the very end. With a cohesive, aquatic production, we’re baptized in his message, submerged in the aesthetic; the results are refreshing.

"Most rappers these days is actors, And I can't keep watching the same movie,These niggas keep sharing the same models, And these models act like they ain't groupies, I ain't stupid, talking Duke Ellington, Count Bassie, Monk and Dave Brubeck, I ain't stupid, talking too eloquent, I ain't stutter, my nigga I ain't Ruben." – "Jazz"

I’ve been playing The Water[s] religiously since August, getting through the album leisurely without a skip, Mick’s deep voice hasn’t grown old, and my favorite song still changes every few weeks. A full project with this many doors to explore, you can journey in for months. It’s enjoyable, entertaining, and thought provoking – like all great works of art. It has that introspective poetry that has held me captive since I got introduced to hip-hop. This is a bar-raising album, setting the placement for all new music that reaches my ears, even Cilvia Demo fell short. Sorry Lucas, but Mick got the juice...I mean water.  

"Stephen Hawking, no need for talking, Got a hawk's eye but I can hardly see you, Talk's fly, pray you're not Aaliyah, I ain't trynna rock the boat but the flow crazy, I paint pictures but they're not baroque, More Scorsese, niggas made scores out of instrumentals." – "The Waters"

- By Yoh (@Yoh31)