Isaiah Rashad has always shown reverence for his fellow artists from the south and that fact is reflected in some of his song titles dating back to his 2014 studio album debut, the excellent Clivia Demo. The Chattanooga rapper has taken care to release his third album in seven years in The House Is Burning and while the wait was more than worth it, it may have been absolutely necessary.
Seven years is several lifetimes in Hip-Hop considering the rapid-fire nature of music releases in the modern era. Few artists can wait five months, much less five years between releasing projects or studio albums, but then, Zay shouldn’t be compared to his peers as he’s part of a machine that doesn’t waste moments when they actually come to fruition. In some ways, the 30-year-old Tennessee native is just now embracing the towering arc of his creative journey, taking all of the things that pushed him to join the ranks as a professional artist but doing so with the guiding polish that every artist within the Top Dawg Entertainment camp has access to.
The House Is Burning is, at times, Rashad working out ideas and inviting listeners into sketches and fleeting thoughts that develop over the course of 48 minutes, which again defies the typical conventions of current Hip-Hop as the myth that fans are clamoring for shorter projects continues to flourish no matter the quality of the material.
Rashad has been especially candid about his struggles with mental health and addiction in recent interviews, even sharing that he moved back home with his mother and entered rehab. The House Is Burning doesn’t squarely focus on this part of Rashad’s travels as much as it shows off his impressive versatility, but if there is a constant that exists with THIB is the fact the most will have to lose it all to gain a sense of where they should belong.
The album opens with the “Darkseid” with production from Los Angeles producer Devin Malik, who produced five tracks total for THIB. From the onset, Rashad’s experimentation with flows highlights both his roots and influences but also gives glimpses of the ability that has many believing he should be a superstar on the level of some of his labelmates. The track is followed by “From The Garden” featuring Lil Uzi Vert. The track from Keanu Beats and Banshee The Great was some four years in the making and has the pair flexing their respective styles over delightfully booming production.
Dallas producer Kal Banx delivers one of the album’s early highlights in “RIP Young” and sounds like it was clearly made for long drives in Rashad’s adopted home of L.A. The track samples Project Pat’s classic “Cheese and Dope” track and Zay is only beginning to warm up by this juncture.
Other highlights include the R&B-ting “Claymore” featuring the talents of Smino, and Rashad’s TDE teammate Jay Rock delivers perhaps the album’s strongest feature on “True Story” which also features Canadian-Californian rapper Jay Worthy atop Devin Malik’s production. The breezy “Wat U Sed” is a sun-soaked affair made brighter by Rashad’s loose delivery and shifts the direction of the album into a series of moments that undoubtedly come across as freeing. The song is also bolstered by Doechii’s scene-stealing verse as well.
When the warm “Don’t Shoot” rolls around, the soul of THIB becomes readily apparent and continues on the SZA and 6Lack-assisted “Score” which features production from the versatile Kenny Beats and provides a beautiful setup for the album’s final two songs in “THIB” and “HB2U.” Of the two songs, “THIB” is most certainly made for the let-out or a solo session with the proper enhancements, to spell things out further. But that perhaps simplifies the effectiveness of the track and its placement within the tracklist, which makes for a perfect segue for the closer.
With “HB2U,” this is the clearest rapping listeners hear from Zay and also neatly ties the themes of THIB together if it wasn’t apparent before. Of all the trials Rashad has endured and as much weight he had riding on his shoulders, the triumph is fully realized by the end.
Rashad doesn’t paint himself as some tortured yet redeemed saint, nor does he make excuses for his excesses. Instead, The House Is Burning reveals that Zay is still working out the kinks and, as the ending of “HB2U” drones via a somber chant, “You are now a human being.”
And, with that, being human is what Isaiah Rashad ultimately displays in the end.
Find The House Is Burning at your preferred DSPs below.