Five years ago, Isaiah Rashad was flying high, on top of the rap world. The Sun’s Tirade, his 2016 debut album, had released to critical and commercial success — and more importantly, was a fan favorite, delivering on the potential promised by his 2014 mixtape, Cilvia Demo. But then, instead of following up, the Top Dawg Entertainment rapper more or less vanished from public view, beginning a long wait for a follow-up that left fans frustrated, decrying the label for “mismanaging” Rashad’s career.
This week, Isaiah released “Lay With Ya” featuring Memphis rapper Duke Deuce. the first single from his upcoming album, The House Is Burning. It appears to showcase an artist who hasn’t lost a step from his glory days at the height of the so-called SoundCloud Rap era — one who managed to not only adapt to ways the Southern rap sound has evolved since then but to adapt those sounds to his own unique style. However, a cover story in The Fader revealed just how much personal tumult the Chattanooga native had endured in the years since he seemingly faded from view.
The profile provides a perfect example of how patience pays off for both fans of artists and their business partners. It also highlights a fact that often gets lost in the clamor for new music to feed the nonstop churn of the streaming era: Artists are human beings who deserve empathy. Oftentimes, we take the artifice of music at face value; the cars, the clothes, the sexual fantasies, and the piles of money depicted in videos are their day-to-day realities in fans’ minds because that’s all we see of the lives these people “live.” However, Isaiah Rashad’s story especially belies that fantasy, revealing just how much artists can struggle with once the video wraps, the spotlights go off, and they step off the stage.
In 2016 and 2017, amid the rollout and subsequent tour for The Sun’s Tirade, Isaiah was open about the addictions that plagued him. He said that he was abusing alcohol the antidepressant Xanax in the years between his mixtape and his debut, jeopardizing his standing at TDE. He even put a voicemail from former TDE co-president Dave Free on the album’s intro in which Free admonished him for blowing through deadlines without turning in the project. He said that the alcohol abuse had destroyed his stomach lining. Yet, amid all that, the label patiently stood by him, and reaped the benefits of that steadfast support when The Sun’s Tirade debuted at No. 17 on the Billboard 200 — before the publication changed the counting rules that would have allowed streams and almost certainly pushed it to the top ten.
And that persistence appears to still be paying off as fans celebrate Isaiah’s long-awaited return to the spotlight after a stint in rehab. Isaiah, who revealed how dire his situation had gotten before then to Fader’s Jeff Weiss — he’d spent nearly all his money, wrecked his Jeep and his label boss Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith’s car, and moved back home to Chattanooga feeling like a failure — seems to be in better spirits than ever and replaced his negative habits — alcohol and pills — with positive ones, like collecting comic books.
Fans of artists like Isaiah who are open with their struggles with anxiety and addiction would do well to learn from Top Dawg’s example. The label head was empathetic to Isaiah’s struggles, helping him to get clean and never pressured him to live up to the outsized expectations and pressure that he heaped on himself. When fans push artists to “drop the album,” it’s understandable but unnecessary. Of course, we would like more music that makes us happy, that soundtracks our best moments, and gives us something to look forward to when festival season rolls around. But artists already want — and need — to put out music. It’s their job, but having to hear about how their job is more important than their lives not only puts undue extra pressure on them, it minimizes their struggles.
We’ve all been there, wanting to call in sick because things have just gotten on top of us. But our bosses need us to clock in, our customers don’t care that we’ve got bills and problems at home, and that clock is the most indifferent, counting down the hours until we can escape. Now imagine you never got that escape, that work followed you everywhere you went until yelling at you to get more done. No one deserves that, least of all the artists who help us to endure the pressure we deal with ourselves. Besides, the wait can make receiving the final product that much sweeter, as we may soon find out when The House Is Burning arrives. Even after nearly five years, it’ll be right on time.
Isaiah Rashad is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.