Those who have known the 31 year-old rapper from Tennessee since his debut mixtape Cilvia Demo (2014) that signified his breakthrough, will also know it’s been an intense ride for Isaiah Rashad. Like many artists, the young rapper suffered from addiction and depression during his first years of fame. Like few, Rashad translated this dark period into deep sounds and poetically raw lyrics, compiled into his now fabled first studio album The Sun’s Tirade (2016). His second album The House Is Burning (2021) marked his comeback as a unanimously acclaimed rap artist, featuring collaborations with Lil Uzi Vert, Jay Rock, and SZA.
Just like his albums, tonight is a night out of the ordinary; Isaiah doesn’t play in Brussels every year. Many young fans seem to know this, standing in line in front of the “La Madeleine” venue located in the heart of Brussels. The atmosphere is airy and relaxed for a chilly night in February. First, supporting act ARDN does a great job at warming us up on his R&B-influenced rap tunes. The Canada-based hip hop artist with Burundi roots has the smoothest flow and makes the crowd move to their feet while he raps his latest single “Plain Jane”. Do check out this young talent on Spotify!
After the cheerful band’s long instrumental intro, Isaiah Rashad makes his appearance walking down the side stairs of the former casino venue. He immediately electrifies the crowd with the staccato flows of “From The Garden” (The House Is Burning, 2021). When he compliments us on our beautiful city and thanks us for paying his bills, the crowd (composed of an unsurprisingly high amount of springy teenage guys) goes wild.
Rashad is a real ball of hot and sweaty energy. On stage, he is everywhere at the same time. The rapper likes to charm, ducking to the entire audience and making eye contact with some female fans on the balconies. When the tension-laden lyrics of “Stuck in The Mud” (The Sun’s Tirade, 2016) start playing, we all put our hands in the air, as if to offer support to the artist’s confessions of self-loathing while he was suffering from anxiety and isolation.
Performing “Tity and Dolla” (The Sun’s Tirade, 2016), Rashad is accompanied by his friend Hugh Augustine, a rapper and community activist based in Los Angeles. We rejoice to the harmony that shines through their rhythmic flows, and I see many people spontaneously smiling and clapping their hands. Although Rashad seems strong and tough in his poised demeanour, he’s not afraid to publicly show his vulnerabilities, as when he raps “Now, I’m praying that I make it to 25/They be calling doctors for my health/And ‘no’ is kinda hard to say to drugs/’Cause I been having problems with myself,” (“Heavenly Father“, Cilvia Demo, 2014). Of course, the entire crowd recognizes his signature song that started his career as a rap artist and sings along.
The show ends in thick smoke (after Rashad called out he “loved smoking weed”) and a wholesome pogo on “Headshots” (The House Is Burning, 2021). Isaiah is a master at controlling the audience, seamlessly freestyling and dancing on stage. He raps with a raspy and booming voice coming from the depths of his lungs, and flowing into the encore with “Lay Wit Ya” (The House is Burning, 2021).
It was a blazing night with Isaiah Rashad – do go see him on one of his next European Tour dates if you have the chance!
Also, do listen to his latest album on Spotify.
Setlist: From The Garden / Wat’s Wrong / Stuck in the Mud / Menthol / RIP Young / Wat U Sed / Park / Silkk Da Shocka / Free Lunch / Heavenly Father / Tity and Dolla (feat. Hugh Augustine) / Shot you down / 4r da squaw / Headshots (4r Da Locals) / Lay Wit Ya