21. Isaiah Rashad, 'Cilvia Demo'
To call Isaiah Rashad's first release a "demo" is to both accurately describe and underrate its qualities. It's so raw that you can almost hear the hiss of low-bitrate MP3 compression and the Chattanooga, Tennessee artist still sounds like he's processing his thoughts. On "Ronnie Drake" he leapfrogs from bragging about his "coke flow" to decrying an overly aggressive police force. He'll sing for a spell about how his absentee father left him "having problems with myself," and then he'll decide to go hard on "niggas who fake trill." Meanwhile, the production from TDE's in-house team of laptop beat wizards recalls the clouded highs of past free-lease classics like Kendrick Lamar's Overly Dedicated and Ab-Soul's Longterm Mentality. Given how casual Rashad sounds, it's remarkable how often he achieves frisson, whether it's the croaked vocals of "Hereditary," or just holding his own with labelmates Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q on "Shot You Down." Rashad is destined for more polished work, but with luck he won't sacrifice the honesty of Cilvia Demo in the process. M.R.