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EP Review: Isaiah Rashad's "Cilvia Demo"

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Hip-Hop EP

Rating:
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Cilvia is exactly what you expect it to be from the beginning. Just good enough to make you understand why TDE decided to add Isaiah Rashad to their roster of all-stars, and just standard enough to keep said roster of all-stars feeling like all-stars. I had a friend who compared him to GLC of G.O.O.D Music, which is a brilliant comparison. GLC was and will never be a superstar, but Kanye can always get a good verse out of him if he needs it.

I can already picture Rashad chiming in on a Schoolboy or Kendrick track with the verve to make you say "Damn that guy deserves more shine". But his "Cilvia Demo" was bit too serene and sleepy to bump him up to the level of his label peers. It's his first major release, so lets give him some slack. The tracks that do hit, hit hard. But lyrically, he takes the easy road on too many songs, counterbalancing against the tracks where his lyrics are truly just as good as the rest of his TDE gang.

This project also gives TDE fans an idea of why they signed him. He fits their mold to a T. His sound is soulful and lyrical enough that he'd never be confused with any of the trap rappers, but on so many songs his topics stay hovering around money, women and drugs (both using and selling). His voice and the beats he chooses would lead you to believe he was some underground rapper trying to hit the lyrical strain of hip-hop fans, but he's a wolf in sheeps clothing. Under the grainy beats and faux lyricism is a typical southern rapper. That sounds like an insult, but the mix proves to be effective on some songs. He's almost like a poor man's Big K.R.I.T. Songs like "Ronnie Drake", "Shot You Down" and "West Savannah" show that somewhere in there is a lyrical vein trying to break free from the layers of predictable Southern rap tropes.

Joining TDE will be good for him in the long run because Schoolboy, Kendrick and Ab-Soul are making a name for themselves precisely on what Rashad lacks: a balance between lyricism and relatability. Rashad leans too heavily on the "relatable" aspect of hip-hop, as many newcomers do. It sounds as if he hopes to keep his music grounded, in fear of the "too poetic" label, yet wants to elevate it beyond the mixtape muck that fills the airwaves and blog lists alike. Here's to hoping he finds his way.

The Musts:

"Ronnie Drake" featuring SZA - This was the best track off the entire project. The second verse had that "lightbulb going off" feel to it, like he understood that he could still be a rapper's rapper and talk about life from a bird's eye view. A sample:

"Sometimes I wonder why we killers, why they killing us,

I think we only wear a grill because they grilling us,

Or how they feeling us, gotta look real and tough,

Gotta keep your hands in the cart, know you stealing stuff.

Came a long way from a boat and an auction,

Now we got names and a vote, then a coffin"

"West Savannah" featuring SZA - SZA silently makes herself known on this project, leaving the rest of us wondering when and what she has up next. One of the few sleepy tracks on the EP that works well.

"Menthol" featuring Jean Deaux - Rashad flips the script on this one. Another quite beat that he goes all Kendrick on. The lyrics are kind of bland but his voice pops on this one.

"Soliloquy" - The beat is so good that you wish Schoolboy or Jay Rock had hopped on it. But I appreciate him trying to wrangle this beat on his own.

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