Ryan Buell | The Beat
The TDE Takeover
Published: Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 06:02
When Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith tweeted, “WE RAN 2013 WITH OUT DROPPING 1 ALBUM. I WONDER WUTS GONE HAPPEN IN 2014 WHEN I DROP 6,” he was hinting at the so-called TDE Takeover — a phrase that has become a slogan of sorts among fans of the record label. With artists like Kendrick Lamar on its roster, Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) has become a driving force within hip-hop, and it has positioned itself to dominate the genre this year.
Even if it didn’t necessarily run 2013 as Tiffith claimed in his tweet, TDE certainly had a big year and did so without any signees releasing a formal album. Lamar released the already legendary “Control” (2013) verse in which he called out some of the biggest names in hip-hop to raise their game, all while touring the country with the great Kanye West. Lamar and his label mates dropped by far the strongest cypher at the 2013 BET Awards. Hype for ScHoolboy Q’s upcoming album built steadily with a slew of singles including the hit song “Collard Greens” (2013). The label added two new artists in Isaiah Rashad and SZA. Lamar, Schoolboy, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock all hopped on guest features left and right and the occasional group remix — “U.O.E.N.O Remix” (2013) anyone? — maintaining the crew’s preeminence, all without a single album release from the TDE signees. So, what would happen if all six TDE signees were to release full albums this year?
With last week’s release of Rashad’s label debut EP “Cilvia Demo,” it seems the TDE Takeover has formally begun. The newest member of the Top Dawg ensemble, Rashad, began 2014 with a lot to prove. Largely an unknown entity from Tennessee, few knew what to expect from his debut. And after hearing the album, there is no way anyone could have anticipated these results. First of all, it’s an exceptional body of work from the rookie. Second, he has established a sound unlike anything else under the TDE umbrella.
“Cilvia Demo” is an unhurried, soulful production that approaches R&B at times. Indeed, Rashad is at his best on the slower side of things, with more up-tempo cuts — i.e. “Soliloquy” — sounding inorganic. The high point of the album comes with the song “Heavenly Father,” one of those tracks with a melancholy theme that somehow leaves the listener feeling unrepressed happiness. Rashad questions, “Heavenly Father, why you so far away?” as he draws on reggae influences and melodic background vocals to create a song you can’t help but keep on repeat.
“Cilvia Demo” also serves as a showcase for the TDE model. The project is unquestionably driven by Rashad as he is never once overshadowed; yet it is clear that his new label is giving him all the tools needed to succeed. The guest features are minimal, with ScHoolboy and Rock only hopping on the seven-minute long “Shot You Down,” in which Rashad holds his own against his elder peers. Two songs featuring SZA showcase TDE’s other new signee, much the same as Rashad was showcased in the BET cypher. And while Lamar makes no appearance on the album, his influence is clear; Rashad applies the Grammy-nominated rapper’s multisyllabic flows and ability to use his voice as an instrument in creating his own unique sound.
If “Cilvia Demo” is but the start of the Takeover, hip-hop fans are in for a treat in 2014. TDE is seizing control of the rap game and giving no indication of loosening its grip. ScHoolboy’s highly-anticipated “Oxymoron” drops Feb. 25, and if Tiffith is true to his word, we can expect four more TDE albums before the end of the year, including Lamar’s follow-up effort to “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” (2012). Brace yourselves, TDE is taking over.
Ryan Buell is a sophomore who is majoring in psychology. He can be reached at Ryan.Buell@tufts.edu.