No one could be blamed for overlooking Isaiah Rashad’s output during the past calendar year. After all, the TDE-affiliate shares a label with Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q, two headline-grabbing artists responsible for three of the best rap albums of the past two years. To Pimp a Butterfly, untitled unmastered and Blank Face LP serve as the label’s crown jewels, while Rashad has slowly released three great singles since then – 2015’s great “Nelly,” as well as early 2016’s “Smile” and now “Free Lunch.” What those who’ve been paying attention realized early on – and what others will soon catch on to – is that Rashad operates fully in his own lane, free of the context and expectations that come with sharing a label with two of rap’s most prominent voices. Lamar’s artful, elevated take on rap, Q’s guttural, hardened stance, those are both vital to the 2016 rap landscape, but Rashad’s calm, breezy competence is a refreshing detour in its own right.
On “Free Lunch,” Rashad’s vocals range from percussive and hard-hitting to rhythmic and free-flowing, showing off a versatility hinted at previously, but never showcased so prominently. Soon enough, TDE will need to make room alongside Lamar and Q at the top of their roster.