Until very recently, Top Dawg Entertainment’s roster of rappers was identical to the roster of the four man crew Black Hippy: Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, and Schoolboy Q. When TDE signed R&B singer SZA over the summer, it was an exciting addition to the team but it didn’t really affect the essential makeup of Black Hippy as it has stood since day one.
That changed a month ago when TDE signed relatively unproven Chattanooga rapper Isaiah Rashad. Rashad had made the rounds on the internet with a bunch of loose tracks that positioned him as a good but still developing rapper, but I have to admit I was worried about him being the first non-Black Hippy rapper on the TDE roster. Black Hippy has been such a perfectly balanced and exceptionally talented crew for long enough that bringing in much greener newcomer brought the risk of him being completely overshadowed or worse yet, being a poor fit with the rest of the team.
“Shot You Down,” the Rashad single that accompanied the signing announcement, did a lot to assuage these fears. It is the best song of his young career so far. It’s a soulful, flute driven, remarkably emotive peek into Rashad’s day-to-day life in the Chatanooga projects that is split between two halves, the first rapped, the second sung. Upon signing to TDE, Rashad had to establish who he is and what his musical identity will be going forward, and make it clear that he’s talented and unique enough to hang with the Black Hippies. He managed that in one song. It was a complete, striking statement of purpose.
The TDE cypher at the BET Awards this week was even more heartening, as Rashad slotted in nicely between Ab-Soul’s sleepy verse and Kendrick Lamar’s fiery attack on pretty much every rapper that isn’t affiliated with TDE. Now, just a few days after the cypher, we have a remix of “Shot You Down” featuring Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q. Jay Rock does the exact same thing he’s done on every verse he’s had since the one on “2 Raw” back at the beginning of last year: hammer home how disappointing it is that he was absent on the last Black Hippy album cycle that brought the excellent Habits & Contradictions, Control System, and good kid, m.A.A.d. city. Since those three albums, Q has been prepping the frustratingly delayed Oxymoron, Ab-Soul just announced Black Lip Pastor, and Kendrick is still on his post-“Control” rampage. Jay Rock needs to reassert his presence with an album now that he’s proven he can demolish every single guest verse he gets. Q spends his verse just being Q and tells people to get off his back about the Oxymoron delays.
But the remix’s most important function is proving just how good Rashad sounds next to these guys. If Black Hippy was looking for a Cappadonna, they couldn’t have done a better job recruiting.