In a year full of stellar music releases, one label might be taking home the trophy at the end of the year.
Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), an independent record label whose artists are geared towards hip hop and R&B, is in the midst of a breakout year on their way to releasing albums from all seven of their artists. The phrase “quality over quantity” comes to mind when speaking of TDE.
Compared to larger record labels, seven artists is a miniscule amount, but almost everything TDE’s artists puts out is critically acclaimed. It starts at the top with Kendrick Lamar, who is considered to be the best rapper on the planet. He started off the year with a cut of B-sides from his last album which he called “Untitled Unmastered”. This was preceded by Jay Rock’s “90059” which was released at the end of 2015. This year has also seen the release of Schoolboy Q’s “Blank Face LP”, which featured the hit song “That Part” featuring Kanye West.
The most impressive release so far may be the sophomore effort from Chattanooga rapper Isaiah Rashad, “The Sun’s Tirade.” The album was a trip inside Rashad’s mind and his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction after releasing his first album. The result is one of the most unique sounds in today’s rap scene in which he finds a perfect sense of when to raise his voice and shrink it down in accordance to the beat, taking it every place it can go. He rides it like a wave.
Rashad makes himself vulnerable on the album by speaking about his fight with depression which he would drown out with drugs and alcohol. He has stated in interviews that he was almost dropped by TDE three times in between his albums as a result of his addiction. The album shows his self-awareness of the problems he faced and how he was able to work his way out of the circle he was stuck in and back to real life. In “Dressed Like Rappers” he sings, “Real life/what does it feel like/I got my pills on/you know I’m real numb.” This is a portrait of a man who was not connected to reality.
After “The Sun’s Tirade” just three artists were left. Singer SZA and rapper Ab-Soul are both finished with their albums and have been promised releases before 2016 is up. That just leaves the newest signee Lance Skiiiwalker whose first album “Introverted Intuition” was released late Monday night. Not much was known about Skiiiwalker with just two singles being released before the album, but the world will know soon as TDE CEO Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith proclaimed he is “breakthrough artist for this generation.”
The 13-track effort presents yet another wholly unique sound in a label that is full of them. The singer- rapper from Chicago introduced himself to the world in his second song as an INFJ, a personality type on the Myers-Briggs personality test showing he is introverted, intuitive, feeling, and judgmental.
The sound that follows on the album exhibits this amazingly through both the music and his voice. They are both unconventional and all over the place going from jazzy tracks, to more traditional hip hop beats, to poppy synths that allow him to sing his way over the tracks manipulating his voice in a similar way to Rashad. The disorder to the album takes you inside the mind of the introvert. You get the sense that you are getting a listen in on his inner most thoughts that he has never released.
While it has its issues, Skiiiwalker’s first release is still impressive. As for TDE, they should be happy where they are standing. They have a hold on the rap game and are only moving up.
Willy may be reached at