by Vance Brinkley

We’re only three months into 2018 and Top Dawg Entertainment is yet again having another great year in music. Kendrick Lamar and SZA continue to receive acclaim for their projects DAMN and CTRL, LA singer SiR brought a modern of touch of soul with his debut album November, the Black Panther official soundtrack topped the Billboard charts and the Championship Tour, featuring almost all of the artists on TDE’s roster, is starting in May. it’s obvious that this West Coast record label is in the middle of a renaissance very familiar to that of Death Row Records and No Limit, and there’s not a true answer to when this era will end.

Even with yet another prosperous year, there’s one TDE artist who fans have been waiting a while to hear: Isaiah Rashad. The Chattanooga, Tenn. rapper showed a lot of promise when his first mixtape Cilvia Demo released in 2014, but Zay wasn’t ready for the aftermath of Cilvia’s success. The following years would include an intense battle with alcohol and Xanax addiction, which almost got him dropped from TDE. Fortunately, Rashad was able to pull things together to release his debut album The Sun’s Tirade in 2016. The album was beloved for showcasing his personal struggles, over a diverse range of jazzy and southern sounds that remained cohesive with its dark concept. The project wasn’t Grammy-nominated nor a Billboard record-breaking project, but it was a solid start and proved to many that among an already dynamic roster of talent in TDE, Rashad could hold his own with quality music and a unique perspective.

This past weekend, according to HotNewHipHop, Isaiah Rashad told an audience at the BUKU festival, “album coming this summer.” Fans will be excited to hear this, as it’s the most concrete bit of news they’ve gotten from him in a while.

In April 2017, he made a promise: that he wouldn’t make his fans wait a long time for another record. “No more projects every two years. I’ma hang with y’all for a while this chapter,” he said. But Zay has barely been heard, musically, since Sun’s Tirade: he dropped “Untitled” in 2016, a loose single with Goldlink, and a freestyle over Tay-K’s “The Race” last September. But that’s about it: people are waiting, and when a look at the replies to his occasional social media posts show that animosity for new music from the “Soliloquy” slinging rapper is real.

There are a few clues strewn around his social media, but not very much. Sure, his IG stories are buzzing right now, but there are only seven photos on his timeline from last year. He deleted all of his photos before 2017, and now he posts miscellaneous pictures of himself smoking, hanging with the crew, cooking (or making a Popeyes run), or getting a new haircut. From October to February, his Twitter account was at one point minimized to retweets of his labelmates’ work and the events like the TDE Toy Drive. His social media profiles are relatively active, but rarely do they give any palpable information: no release dates, no links to new music, and very few snippets at how things will sound when he finally drops.

But Zay has vaguely hinted that the album is almost done. He’s shown himself in the studio, and he premiered two unreleased songs on the road In November. And Teddy Walton, a producer who has worked with Kendrick Lamar and on both DAMN and _Black Panther The Album_, live-streamed an unreleased track featuring Zay himself. The song wasn’t officially confirmed to be off of his newest project, but has been resurfacing now that more people have been curious about where the rapper has been lately. He’s also on the recently-announced lineup for this year’s Smoker’s Club Fest in Long Beach, Calif.

Zay also hasn’t tweeted as much lately either, but is it me or is he subtweeting about a new album?

Fans were worried – maybe even of a possible relapse – when Rashad wasn’t included in TDE’s Championship Tour and he didn’t appear on Black Panther The Album, which featured virtually all of the label’s roster aside from him. Both seemed like red flags. Fortunately, MixedbyAli – the label’s in-house engineer, and a reliable source for TDE info – told Rap Radar that Isaiah was finishing up his album.

But if there weren’t any other issues, that brings even more questions. Would Isaiah Rashad intentionally isolate himself just to focus on his next album? Or was it a coach’s decision to keep him away from such huge opportunities for the TDE roster? How much will those lost opportunities cost him, and how much will he need to do to regain the momentum he could have had otherwise? Also, what will this album be about? The Sun’s Tirade and Cilvia Demo were amazing projects that brought Isaiah’s battle with depression and addiction to the forefront of his music, but there’s almost a year of his life that people haven’t been privy to.

While there may not be any official titles, album covers, tracklists, or any clear idea of what’s on the way, something is about to happen. Hopefully, it’ll be another achievement for one of the most sincere acts rap has to offer.