How Naps and Real Talk Helped Isaiah Rashad Deal With Depression

The rapper opens up about overcoming alchohol and Xanax to become TDE's rising star.

Isaiah Rashad

Image via Earl Gibson/BET/Getty

Isaiah Rashad

For the past two years, Isaiah Rashad has been working on more than music. This month, the TDE spitter’s follow-up to 2014’s Cilvia Demoarrived in the form of The Sun’s Tirade. In addition to memorable cuts like “Free Lunch,” “4r Da Squaw,” and the Kendrick Lamar-assisted stand-out “Wat's Wrong,” the album came with a harrowing story, too.

Depression and substance abuse marred the last two years of Rashad’s life. It was at time when, as he puts it, he was learning about life. Over the course of his 25 years, Rashad has certainly learned a lot about resilience, which serves as the main theme of The Sun’s Tirade. We caught up with the Chattanooga rhymer to talk about his growing pains, fatherhood, and being part of the TDE empire.

On 2014's “Heavenly Father,” you rapped, “I’m praying that I make it to 25.” You’re 25 now. What have you learned in the two years since your last album?
I’ve learned that I really can’t be married to any of my thoughts. I don’t know if that’s something to learn about yourself. It’s still hard for me to pinpoint what I’ve learned about me. I’ve learned more about other stuff, like, nothing’s guaranteed and not in the sense that you can’t predict tomorrow, but in the sense that you can’t bet on anything. The only thing you’ve got is what you plant. You can’t go off of what anybody else says they’re going to do for you, or any of that type of shit. You’ve gotta have your own back, not on some the-world-don’t-fuck-with-you shit, but you’ve really gotta be prepared and on a safety net sometimes for whatever may come your way.  

You talk about anxiety and depression on the album. How have you been able to overcome that throughout your life?
I take a lot of naps. I try to just be open. I guess I’m pretty candid all the time. The only way I could get through most stuff I’ve gone through is by talking about it. Being honest about it with myself, not speaking no bullshit to myself. Not saying stuff to myself just to say it.

When were your first bouts with depression?
College. Being in college and not really understanding what I wanted to do with myself and feeling like there was a clock ticking down. A clock ticking down until you’re 21. Once you pass 21, you’re like, “What now? What now? What now?” I don’t know.

I always felt that kind of pressure to do [things] early, even before rap. Ni**as were telling me, “You got talent. Something resonates in you.” That type of shit. I don’t take people’s words heavy but you hear that shit enough, you think, “I’m supposed to do something. I’ve gotta do something.” So as soon as I got out of high school, it was like, “I’ve gotta figure this shit out.” The more unrealistic shit seems the more unrealistic doing anything outside of the impossible feels. That 9-to-5 shit, that shit drives me crazy just thinking about it. I’d rather be on a farm or some shit, planting my own food, than to work for somebody.

"the only road to recovery is being sad anyway for a little bit."

More recently, your anxiety led to addiction. How were you able to overcome that?
The addiction thing—see, Xanax and alcohol just crossed paths. I guess, if you want to call it addiction, it’s more of the alcoholism thing. The Xanax shit was like an unhealthy habit. Taking Xanax and alcohol, you black out at some point. You don’t remember shit. I was going through a lot of that shit, combining that and then to do drugs, it’s kind of cool to just chill and not feel shit.

It was mostly traveling, though, that led to Xanax—getting on planes and long tour rides. Then you get off tour and it’s like, “Why not pop a Xanax? It’s cool.” But drugs make you depressed afterwards so then you take [more] drugs to stop being depressed briefly and you’re more depressed afterwards, so you’ve gotta figure it out. And then, not taking them don’t feel good, either. That’s a weird kind of depression, too. It puts you in a weird mood. It’s just the only road to recovery is being sad anyway for a little bit.

For a little bit, but then you ride that out?
You ride that out, yeah, and then you fuck up your inhibitors and you fuck up your receptors and shit in your brain. Take enough Xanax and you won’t be able to achieve that reward feeling—dopamine and all that shit—so alcohol, too much of that shit, you’ll never be able to get that high again. I think I’m going through that dissatisfaction type of thing.

Dissatisfaction with what?
Just by default. Just mood. Just like everything’s alright. It’s cool. I’m happy with everything, just not really high off life. I’m trying to catch that.

You’ve said that your kids kind of help with that, right?
Yeah, my kids are tight, bro. I see my kids and I get this automatic switch of, “I’ve gotta be chipper. I’ve gotta be happy.” ’Cause if you ain’t happy, they can tell.

How did your relationships with your biological father and your stepdad impact your own approach to parenting?
I think my stepdad made me real playful and my biological dad made me realize I need to be there as much as possible. Shouldn’t too many things happen to make you not be able to be present for your kids… [My stepdad] is a Leo. I’m a Taurus, so we’re real warm signs and shit. He’s about eight or nine years younger than my dad, so he was a lot more active when I was a kid. A lot more. To have somebody who’s outside, playing with toys with you and that type of shit, it was cool to have that after not having a dad for a minute. 

So you grew up with him?
Yeah. [My mom and stepdad] have been together now like 17 years, I think. I was like 7 or 8. I didn’t really fuck with him a lot until I was about 14, 15. But that was way past the toys shit. I’m just reflecting on it now, that he used to do a lot of cool shit. He gave me candy and shit, like take me to Six Flags, that I didn’t appreciate a lot—shit I didn’t really give a fuck about, shit I complained about at the time. I wanted my dad and not to be with this dude, but thinking about it [now], that shit was tight.

Isaiah Rashad

You’re an important part of one of rap’s biggest labels. What have you learned from your TDE labelmates?  
I think we’re supposed to hold the common ideal of what hip-hop is supposed to be. You’re supposed to keep that tucked in your pocket at all times, no matter what you’re doing.

What is that ideal?
You know, blah-blah lyricism, blah-blah content, blah-blah conceptualism, blah-blah originator shit. You know? That shit. Old shit. Just keep that shit in your pocket while you’re still revolutionizing music. While you’re changing the landscape of music, keep the principles in your pocket. I think that’s what TDE should do at all times.

How does it feel to be part of that?
I’m excited to be around a diverse group of people like that. I’ve realized that’s something everybody’s got in common. That’s the common ground, but different styles… Everybody makes totally different music. It’s that principle that keeps everybody connected. It’s that consistency. Consistent content. Pen game meaning something. Shit like that. 

What did you want to say with The Sun’s Tirade? What do you want it to mean for your career?
I like my track record with this being my second project. People can name mixtapes, but I’ve got Cilvia and I’ve got The Sun’s Tirade. Right now, I like how that shit looks on paper, you feel me? There are improvements and shit. The message I wanted… There really wasn’t no message behind it. I write pretty ambiguously, so it’s whatever you feel. That’s why I’m not really trippin’ on reviewers who say it sucks. I laid it down with the intention of having wherever I’m at and whatever I’m doing totally balanced. People ain’t gotta like balance, but it’s balanced. It’s two projects depending on how you listen to it. It’s either smooth as shit or mid-tempo. It ain’t slow as shit but it ain’t fast as fuck either. It goes up and down. It’s left to your imagination just like the title is left to your imagination. You can ask me what I meant and what it means for me; but what I meant for it to mean for you? Nothing.

So what does the title mean for you?
It’s just a long, hot-ass rant. That’s all the project is. Hot tracks. Hot bars. Upset-ness. Making something real sad sound cool sometimes. I might be the most nonchalant rapper out right now. Most nonchalant rapper out. Unmatched nonchalant-ness.

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