Isaiah Rashad: The House Is Burning
"South Side said you ain't got nothin' to live for, so you ain't got nothin' to lose."
This is what The House Is Burning is about. A man crawling out of intense pain. An internal monologue with sleep paralysis demons and anxiety monsters. The music has an underbelly of hurt...just...everything hurts. According to the man himself, this is his first album written and recorded completely sober. Meaning he was fully conscious of every choice he made. While his music in the past had a heavy tint of something gnarly and dangerous, the music here is contemplative in the way he must confront everything with eyes open and head clear. And it's not easy. It's got the same pervasive "turn up," but there's something different about the delivery. There's nothing joyful here. It's as if Rashad doesn't have the energy to grandstand and pretend the life everyone thinks they want is what he wants.
Pain. Reflection. A deep cut he has to try to stitch up in order to keep himself together. Even his "9-3 Freestyle," all testicular boasting, sounds like he's far removed. Detached from the words as if they're trying to take him back to a time he spent at least five years trying to rip himself away from. The fact that he ends the freestyle saying, "This my part right here," and leads right into "Score" is no coincidence. It wasn't an accident. Intention. His favorite part is getting away from that life of excess. Bringing it back to something melodic that does more to narrate his state of mind than even a song supposedly off the top of his head. SZA lending her support to her TDE brother is more than just a means to have her feature on a record. The teardrop in her voice sounds like the heartbreak of a sister who wants her brother to get better. To feel well again.
The album doesn't consistently hit me in the right way emotionally. Though I'm aware that Rashad is painting a visceral picture of where he was in order to get to another destination, it doesn't always make an impact. But that ultimately doesn't matter. The amount of weight on this man's back finally having a place to land is consistent throughout. Title track "THIB" brings it all together. Again, intention. He's not trying to hide anything. There's a reason the house is burning. Because at the end of the day he's the one that set fire to it. To himself. Burning down everything that kept him cocooned in all the worst aspects of his life, of his mind and spirit. And he can't stand the rain. (If the choice of sample and even flow in the last 16 are any indication.) "Who's that creeping in my window? Who's that fuckin' with my conscience? I was." He's his own boogeyman. He's the "Who" when he constantly calls "Who's there?"
And ultimately this is what made it hard for me to pick this album up at first. I have a younger brother. His pain...it's in this album. The feeling of being ignored because you're a Black man, because you grew a Black boy with no outlet. Regardless of if every single track on this album reached me, the ones that did tore a hole in me from the grimy nostalgia of a childhood draped in secret for fear of ridicule or repercussions.
"HB2U" brings that nasty nostalgia home in a way that was almost more jarring than the title track. Ending the album with this track, following "THIB"...again, intentional. After confronting and ultimately owning his demons, it's time for a rebirth. It's time to reawaken as a new person. A new version of yourself. A two-part track that reaches back for the warmth of a rare good moment, then reflecting on how to move on. Open, raw, honest. No hiding anymore. "You are now a human being." Flipping the tape over to return to the beginning, back to the "Darkseid."
As much as this was an album for Isaiah Rashad to purge his demons, this is an album for every Black man who made it and, more poignantly, those who didn't. This is for every Black boy who still struggles with the hurt of a shitty past and the fear of an unsure future. This album is for my brother who grew up feeling wayward because no one could (or oftentimes would not) swim out to bring him back to shore. I am thankful with every single breath I take that he's here with me. I'm thankful for the chances the Universe gave him and every Black boy to man who made it. My heart weeps for those who couldn't. The House Is Burning is a ragged exhale and quiet tears in a bedroom. But it's also a means to usher in healing.