A return for one of rap's underdogs
Part of me still can’t fathom that it’s been nearly 5 years since we last heard from Isaiah Rashad. Almost half a decade ago, The Sun’s Tirade was released in September 2016, the album was beloved by many. Noting Rashad’s style, delivery, and overall vibe the album gave off. Also taking in the fact that he was signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, a record label housing powerhouses such as Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q. He stood out from the label with his Southern roots, bringing a laid-back sound to TDE’s West Coast rap. It seemed like Isaiah had everything set out for him, right?
Unfortunately, not all that glitters is gold. Following The Sun’s Tirade, Rashad slipped back into alcoholism and found himself broke, bankrupt, and lost. There were contemplations of quitting music and going back to Chatanooga, Tenessee, Forgoing the dream he set out on as a teen. Thankfully, Isaiah doesn’t give up that easily, after a stint in rehab and finding himself again the rapper makes his triumphant return with The House Is Burning. You’d be mistaken to think this new album isn’t a victory lap for Rashad because he’s come back like he never left.
Rashad has become one of the go-to rappers to catch a vibe, and he doesn’t disappoint with this new album. The whole project is woozy and slinky, complete with smooth basslines and lowkey tempos. Isaiah is more laid back than ever. There’s a nocturnal vibe throughout the whole thing, but not in the sense that the album’s dark. Rather, it sonically captures the feeling of those late-night adventures chilling with friends, relaxing under the night sky with few moments of hype. Contemplating life and where you’re thinking of going.
This is thanks in part to the production, which ranges from Kal Banx, Dave Malik, and Kenny Beats among others. All of whom provide the perfect soundscape for Isaiah. Whether it be the Southern heavy “RIP Young”, “All Herb”’s synthy boom-bap, or the R&B inflected “Score”.
Rashad also plays a big part, his cadences sound more drawl, at times it’s as if he’s mumbling the verses and just freely flowing with the beat instead of trying to sound discernible. He rarely raises his voice on the album, he’s aware of the style both he and his fans like, and he’s perfected it on The House Is Burning. This also accounts for the guest features here too, TDE cohorts/frequent collaborators Jay Rock and SZA come through on the album (“True Story”, “Score”). Smino matches Rashad’s relaxed vibe on “Claymore” while TikTok famous Doechii provides a fun verse on the bouncy “Wat U Sed”. Other notable features include Lil Uzi Vert, who goes bar for bar on “From The Garden”, Duke Deuce on the bass-heavy “Lay Wit Ya”, and 6LACK on the aforementioned “Score”.
The much-needed confidence Isaiah has worked on shines throughout most of the album. He flexes his rap muscles on the album’s two “freestyles” “Hey Mista” and “9–3 Freestyle”, both of which could’ve fit perfectly on his debut mixtape Cilvia Demo. He’s mastered the art of being soulful, as he taps into Erykah Badhu levels of soul on “Score”, harmonizing with both SZA and 6LACK throughout the chorus. The weed fuelled “All Herb” is a psychedelic track about hurt feelings, where Rashad’s vocals pitch up and down in a druggy manner on the hook (“Screamin’ at home, and no phones, we all hurtin’. Freakin’ ya soul, like the pack, we all herb. Pay me to feel, what the fuck, we all need ya.”).
From a lyrical standpoint, Isaiah sounds happier compared to the bouts of depression and addiction he spoke about on The Sun’s Tirade. He’s come out of his slump and is ready to face the world again, as he tells fans on “Headshots”: (“It feel good since a nigga been back but a nigga done changed, changed, changed, changed, changed. Weed couldn’t settle my fire couldn’t cover my pain, pain, pain, pain, pain.”). He’s got his confidence back as he proclaims on the hook of “RIP Young”, he’s been a cool cat his whole life, but now he’s top dog (a little nod to Top Dawg). He showcases that in true rapper fashion on “From The Garden”, whose trumpet sampling intro lets us know he’s 100% back (“Came out bustin’, came out puffin’, came out fuckin’ on your cousin”.).
That's not to say he doesn’t cover his personal issues, as they take center stage on the album’s title track “THIB”. He reveals how his addiction and mental health made him bad with money, complacent and lost. (“ Soul searchin’, no purpose, purchase. Been an addict, been starvin’, thirsty. Still greedy, don’t tease me, servin’”.). His delivery alongside the song’s production makes him sound self-reflective, what’s done is done and now’s he’s learning from it.
Album closer “HB2U” is a two-parter, with the latter half being a complete left-field move. The song becomes an indie-rock ballad where Rashad’s hypnotic vocals help him accept his faults. He’s aware of his past habits (“Have I been cheatin’ myself? I’m implodin’. She’s sick and tired of, “Listen, I’m broke”.”) But reminds both himself and the listener that mistakes are what makes us human, as he repeats the mantra (“You are now a human being”.).
The House Is Burning does have a few duds, tracks like “Chad” and “Don’t Shoot” felt like placeholders, interludes to tide you over to the album’s last half. They’re not horrible, but there’s just something there that couldn’t hold my attention long enough to care for these tracks.
Overall, The House Is Burning is a great album. A solid return for an underrated rapper. Isaiah Rashad hones in on his laid-back style that makes him sound much happier and content with life, while still offering nuggets into his personal issues that he’s looking back at in the rearview mirror. The House Is Burning feels like Rashad hit the reset button on his career, which sort of makes sense considering the album’s title. If your house caught fire what would you do? would you run back into the burning building and salvage what’s already gone? Or do you start back from square one and build again to be stronger and smarter? It’s safe to say Rashad made the latter decision, which might be the best choice he’s made.
The House Is Burning gets an 8/10. It’s a great listen from start to finish with a few unforgettable songs but is overall another stellar addition to Isaiah Rashad’s discography.
Stream Isaiah Rashad’s The House Is Burning Below.