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Confessions of Isaiah Rashad: an intimate look at the rapper’s Chicago performance

| Friday, January 27, 2017

Isaiah Rashad_WebDOMINIQUE DeMOE | The Observer

After signing to Top Dawg Entertainment back in 2013 and joining the likes of Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q and SZA as a part of the famed hip-hop label, Isaiah Rashad put his unique footprint on the music industry. With his debut album “Cilvia Demo,” he received vast critical praise for an inimitable hip-hop album that explored themes of self-loathing, depression and anxiety.

His sophomore album, “The Sun’s Tirade,” delved even deeper into the artist’s dark thoughts and glimpses of self-discovery, resonating with those that have ever felt isolated and insignificant. In songs like “Park” and “Dressed like Rappers,” Rashad articulates his shadowy doubts in witty rhymes that bring a gloomy undertone to more energetic beats. As a whole, the work provides a collection of Rashad’s deepest thoughts and confessions mixed with master producing that serves to convey a personal diary while maintaining the artist’s signature musicality.

Knowing I would be attending Rashad’s concert at the intimate “Double Door” venue in Wicker Park, Chicago, I further familiarized myself with the artist’s discography to gain a better grasp of his tumultuous journey through mental illness. With somber subject matter being performed on a small stage, I expected Rashad to deliver a serious performance that would leave the audience reflecting on their own struggles caused by a prejudiced society — almost reminiscent of one of Kendrick Lamar’s intimate “Kunta’s Groove Sessions.”

Instead, Rashad emerged from the stage with an unexpected energy and vivacity that took his bleak confessionals to a proud exclamation of self-awareness and self worth. In “4r Da Squaw,” Rashad lifted the mellowed beat with a strong proclamation of his realizations, rapping, “Alright now I got the moon and the stars beneath my feet / So low I speak / So I don’t wake them, praise the Lord, the God in me.” The atmosphere reminded me of a hip-hop version of a Twenty One Pilot’s show, with an enthusiastic crowd creating a cohesive, energetic environment that encouraged the expression of struggle rather than demonizing it. Proudly repping an “America” basketball jersey with the name “Obama” across the back, Rashad also used his socially relevant lyrics to call attention to some of the nation’s most pressing injustices, including police brutality and mass incarceration.

Throughout the hour and a half-long setlist, Rashad returned to some of his roots, performing a few “Cilvia Demo” favorites that kept the crowd pleased and connected to his story. In “Heavenly Father,” he navigated through some of his worst suicidal thoughts while allowing the audience to reciprocate by perfectly reciting every single lyric into his outstretched microphone. As the show neared its end, the energy slightly dropped off with some of the crowd becoming more lethargic. In between songs, audience members could be heard yelling out specific songs they wanted to hear before he left the stage, most of which were ignored.

As Rashad announced he was about to perform his last song, shouts of “Free Lunch!” could be heard throughout the crowd. Low and behold, the rapper’s most popular track surged through the venue, revamping the energy that had been lost only moments earlier. Rashad’s nimble flows cut through the air and lifted the audience into one final hoorah before he left the stage. As the crowd filed out of the venue, Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” blasted from the speakers in an almost symbolic sense. Not only was the audience left proudly chanting a fellow TDE rapper’s lyrics, but they exited with the same feelings of empowerment and pride that Rashad fortified throughout the entirety of the show.

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