Evan Dale // May 16, 2020
A Tennessee connection of the modern cloth: Chattanooga - Nashville. The two cities are only 130 miles from one another. A two hour drive. And yet, for most of their cultural histories, they’ve been separated by an outsider point of view that would see them belong almost to different parts of the world. But, beneath the mire of it all, their true cultural dynamics have always been aligned. And in a modern hip-hop spectrum, Chattanooga & Nashville are two of the most exciting young scenes of influence and experimentation, folding in the classicism of a Southern hip-hop scene birthed in Tennessee and merging it with a modern obsession for the flavor of the Southern underground. Low-fidelity beats, jazzy influence, an unparalleled American musical history, and that unavoidable draw – Southern hip-hop at its rawest – adhering to rap’s rhythmic and poetic pillars – is better than the music of any other geographic subset’s underground.
Prove me wrong. But read the rest before you try.
How They Compare
Isaiah Rashad shined a light on Chattanooga – the scene that birthed him, but by no means that he birthed. A vivid hip-hop history has long existed there, the same way that it has always existed in Memphis. The simple truth of it is that Chattanooga is smaller and so from an outside perspective, its underground heroes remained undiscovered. But, getting signed by TDE changes a lot of things. They knew where to look for talent. They knew what was eternally happening beneath Tennessee’s floorboards. And with the help of the Internet era allowing Chattanooga and the state of Tennessee to show its true strength in numbers, Isaiah Rashad deservedly worked his way from the volunteer state without ever really letting go.
That place made his sound what it is – a dynamic myriad of influence converged into a single, unique delivery. Always rapping, but always seemingly also in melody, Isaiah Rashad is a transcendent hip-hop force at a time when such artistry is revered more than ever.
But listen to most southern artists - especially those calling home to Tennessee – and hear the same level of confidence in their fluid textures. From Nashville, the most soulfully driven rapper with the most Tennessee of draws is Brian Brown. His 2020 album, Journey speaks to a proud tradition of storytelling in southern hip-hop, and really just culture at large, while at the same time also speaks to his balanced marrying of all things rapped, sung, and suspended in their grey area. It is the effortlessness with which he raps that draws comparisons already to Isaiah Rashad, and it’s his true country twang that makes him an even more geographically proud textural musician.
How They Contrast
There are stark points of differentiation between Isaiah Rashad & Brian Brown, just like there are those points of pride that differentiate the cultures of Chattanooga and Nashville at large. Both rappers are products of their environment, and their environments, though as close to one another as possible, are still very different.
Isaiah Rashad is a veteran lyricist, as firm in his craft as he was when Cilvia Demo was released at the beginning of his TDE career. But, signing to TDE comes with a few caveats – the most fervent of which is apparent beginning with Cilvia Demo – that moving forward, Isaiah was to be the world’s rapper, always Chattanooga’s, but never again theirs alone. To wit, his sound – though permanently rooted in his southern accent – has changed to at least some noticeable degree.
With Brian Brown, things are different. Smaller of course and earlier on in his career, Brown is a source of pride for Nashville, and he returns the favor – always paying homage to his city and the upbringing it brought him. With the release of debut album, Journey this year, he’s gained some serious traction and we’ll see how that develops alongside his hometown shoutouts moving forward. But for now, Brown is as Nashville as they come. Just listen to Come On In and envelope yourself in the most honest sonic representation of his city – from the draw and the lyrically storytelling to the chopped & screwed moments. Then, listen to the rest of the album two or three more times.
Proof in the Past
Isaiah Rashad shares a number of collaborative tracks with his TDE compatriots, and that enough proves his collaborative prowess. If he can rap with Kendrick Lamar without disappearing from a track altogether, he can rap with anyone.
Being from Nashville alone ensures that Brian Brown is a collaborative beast. The Ville has pulled themselves from the underground collectively, collaborating within before ever looking out because they understand the weight of their greater creative mass. One of the most underrated global cultural hubs, Nashville is a city that will allow anyone with the talent and the drive to make it, on the backs of creative collaboration alone. And for an artist as individually gifted as Brian Brown, there is no worry about losing his shine next to Isaiah Rashad. If anything – at this moment in musical history when Brown is everywhere and Isaiah is a mystery – the worry might in fact be the other way around.
How They Collaborate
Isaiah Rashad & Brian Brown would make insatiable hip-hop with one another. Both fervent lyricists, poetic storytellers, and melodically inclined rappers at the end of the day, the two would be able to build off one another’s adjacent creative skillsets through a track or even a project. The drive the two would bring, coupled with the innately competitive nature of their rivaling sister cities, would result in this generation of Tennessee’s most prideful hip-hop collaboration to date. There is nothing the two haven’t proven through their respective careers so far, and this would only cement their already assumed positions in the Southern Hip-Hop Hall of Fame.