Chattanooga native and current TDE signee Isaiah Rashad is an artist whose work is inspired by familial experiences and a sense of specific geography. Over the past few years, he’s released music that owes much of its identity to the Southern locations that served as the backdrops to his childhood. Influenced and aided by his ability to transform the usual Southern hip-hop traditions into something far more incisive and distinct, Rashad never shies away from darker themes and ideas-instead, he opts for a mixture of nimble lyrical theatrics and dense rhythmic intonations.
And when it comes to live performances, there is little that can prepare you for the sense of communal inclusivity that permeates his every movement. The beats seem to strike your nervous system at odd angles, creating echoes that reverberate along your spine.
And it was with this knowledge that I walked into Revelry Room Thursday night to witness Rashad play to a sold-out crowd.
I got there a bit early and was ushered into the main room. People were lining the walls to wait for their chance to meet and greet Rashad. These people had paid extra for this privilege, had spent money to have a little extra time with their hometown hero. Hugs were given and photos were taken while Rashad soaked in the obvious affection from his fans. He was the consummate artist, always ready with a smile and welcoming attitude for everyone who came to see him. The rest of the ticketholders were held behind the divider at the back of the room. They were anxious to get in.
Small pockets of people would start singing verses of songs by Rashad-it was an electrifying time, this communal sense of purpose and intent. People knew that this was going to be a special show. They weren’t wrong.
Tut took the stage first and whipped the crowd into a frenzy. His lyrical storytelling fed into a collective need that the audience didn’t even know they had. With each undulating verse and chorus, the sound grew louder from those in attendance. It was a release-this give and take between Tut and his spellbound audience. There was no grand setup onstage, just a table with a laptop and DJing equipment. But by adhering to a fairly minimal layout, we were free to fully focus on every word that was thrown from the stage.
Tut bounced back and forth in front of his DJ, often stepping to the edge of the stage and coming face to face with people shouting along with him. His performance was built from a handful of songs that felt ragged and joyous, and kept everyone keenly aware how necessary these musical and emotional connections really are. He fed off the energy from us and gave back tenfold of his own electric personality.
Next up was Jay IDK, a musician who maintained the goodwill and momentum built up from Tut while projecting his own ecstatic sound across the room. He was a lightning bolt of frenetic motion and buoyant positivity. He would regularly call for us to raise our voices together and fill the room with cacophonous noise. Beats rolled out behind him as he jumped and stomped his way across the stage. He was often a blur that briefly settled in one place before kicking off time to the wild rhythms. His intent was to rile up the crowd so that we all felt like part of something larger than ourselves.
Red, blue and green lights bathed the room, giving his performance an otherworldly feel, a kind of dreamlike state where reality is brushed aside for something that feels far more relevant. We all shared a particular mindset as the music poured through us-we were caught up in a tide of emotional commonality and musical association. The stage became less a strict physical platform and more a pulpit from which truths and sacred/secular enlightenment was being willfully shared and absorbed.
When Rashad finally took the stage, there was little room left for doubt as to the veracity of the crowd’s love for what we’d heard and what we were looking forward to hearing. He bounded out and held us in rapt attention, threading his intricate melodies through our dense ranks. There was little room to move, and our bodies became a surging ocean of limbs and syncopated swaying. As he ran through a collection of songs from his latest record, words became important again.
His voice hovered above us, a guide and solace against the darkness we had all left out in the real world. For a short time, we were able to block out our personal problems and focus instead on his lyrical revelations. It seemed to be something that everyone needed. Despite the erratic movement of the crowd, no one seemed to mind the shifting positions and abrupt moshing that began to occur toward the middle of the room. His beats shook and echoed around the room, creating a reverberating chamber of emotion and shared motivation. As the sound died away and we all shuffled back outside to our individual lives, the sound of cheers and collective celebration was still rattling in our heads.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
Updated @ 12:27 a.m. on 2/17/16 to correct a factual error: The opener was Tut, not Lance Skiiiwalker, as originally reported.