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High Notes: Isaiah Rashad

Written by Rosalie Cabison • Photography by Koury Angelo, Red Bull Sound Select • November 16, 2016


An eager mob of streetwear-clad hip hop heads roared at an empty stage fifteen minutes before Isaiah Rashad’s scheduled set time. From first inhale to last bar on the mic, the 25-year-old is an unstoppable force. Get the High Notes.

Jazz-stylized beats played over the speakers, Isaiah Rashad ran out to cheers and launched into “Smile,” reassuring the antsy crowd that he had arrived. The setlist for the night contained cuts from Cilvia Demo (2014) and The Sun’s Tirade (2016)—his projects as a member of the TDE Family. With TST's release only two months ago, this was the first time many of the songs were played live.

Zay exhibits the talents of a MC in the truest sense. While other entertainers push the limits of ways to create a live experience that fans want to repeat—lights, pyro, visualizations, dancers, intimate banter between songs, surprise guests, cover songs, etc.—the captivating power of Zay’s show resides entirely in what you hear from the mic. His words cut through the noise and are complimented by zealous fans yelling lyrics at the top of their lungs. Watch this clip:

Last night⚡️⚡️⚡️

A video posted by MGMT: Mattmillertde@gmail.con (@rorybehr) on

It was clear that the show is a family affair. Top Dawg’s sultry-voiced SZA joined Zay for two songs:

Rashad also brought out LA rapper Hugh Augustine for his feature on “Tity and Dolla" and closed the set with an all-out energy release to "m.A.A.d City” by TDE labelmate Kendrick Lamar.

Zaywop said his thank yous and cleared his crew from the stage, but chants of “One more! One more! One more!” lasted even after it was clear that the show was really over.

Stray observations:

  • Rashad's flow is as unpredictable as a Class Five white water rafting course. He switches from lackadaisical mumble lines to gruffy growls to smooth crooning with finesse.

  • I love that he performs in a casual flannel shirt/white tee/jeans ensemble. No arrogance. He’s a guy you would pass up on the street if you don’t really know what he looks like.

  • Zay is open about his experience with depression ("I can admit / I been depressed / I hit a wall / ouch," he says in “Dressed Like Rappers” off The Sun’s Tirade). Knowing how depression feeds self-doubt and low self-esteem, it was inspiring to see him charismatically take over a room.

What’s the ONE thing people need to know about Isaiah Rashad's live show? Listen with an open heart/mind and be prepared to BOUNCE. Bonus points if you listen to what Zay is actually saying when he raps—his message is important.

P.S. Your chance to see him is on the Lil Sunny Tour next year.

Isaiah Rashad Lil Sunny Tour 2017 Dates:

1/18 – Lawrence, KS
1/19 – Minneapolis, MN
1/20 – Chicago, IL
1/22 – Detroit, MI
1/24 – Buffalo, NY
1/26 – Toronto, ON
1/27 – Montreal, QC
1/28 – South Burlington, VT
1/29 – Providence, RI
1/30 – Boston, MA
2/1 – New York, NY
2/2 – Washington, D.C.
2/4 – Philadelphia, PA
2/8 – Jacksonville, FL
2/9 – Tampa, FL
2/10 – Miami, FL
2/11 – Tallahassee, FL
2/12 – Atlanta, GA
2/14 – Nashville, TN
2/16 – Chattanooga, TN
2/17 – Birmingham, AL
2/18 – Oxford, MS