IshDARR – Old Soul Young Spirit (Extended Review)

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I’ve got one word (among others): solid. Ishdarr is a Milwaukee rapper who has been reaping the benefits of finding his voice earlier than he ever could have hoped. He’s a great rapper, and I’m glad he realized that and started making music at just 17. His first project was The Better Life EP, and apart from his voice hinting at it, you wouldn’t have had any way of knowing that this kid was so young, and so new to making music. It wasn’t a lackluster flow that tipped you off, that’s for sure. Right out of the gates this dude was a more than respectable rapper. Looking back, what I loved about the project the most was its variety. “1996”, They Lost Me”, “NICE”, “MOMMA”, “SQUAD”, and “POPS” — quite literally every track on the EP had a crazy distinct identity. But, most importantly, this didn’t make The Better Life as a whole incohesive in any way, which is the big danger when playing around with different styles or genres within Hip hop. The thematic thread of “the better life” was just enough to give a clear through line in the EP. But, again, more than anything else I was impressed with this being Ish’s first stab at music. It was a great project, and, as I spoiled earlier, so is this record.

On Old Soul Young Spirit, Ish stays with his own theme of tinkering and experimenting with different sorts of sounds. From the dark and almost menacing beat on “Right Now”, to “Only You” and its smooth and sincere lyricism, to the airy, fun and radio-friendly track that is “Vibe”. And that’s just three tracks. This dodging between styles couldn’t be accomplished smoothly by someone who doesn’t come through and legitimately spit when he hits the studio. Ish deserves some praise; the confidence and hunger he has on the mic is something that adds so dynamically to Hip hop, and it’s what separates the boys from the men, so to speak. With these sharp tools he has in his skill set he makes a full-length debut that is a really nice listen. It flows very smoothly and is in and out before it overstays its welcome.

I’m going to put myself in the shoes of an average listener, perhaps the perspective of someone living in Milwaukee who was put onto Ish as the next big one. They are probably starting with “Too Bad”, which was the single that created the most hype leading into the release. Even if Ish really put his own heart and style into the track, it’s still a turn-up track, and people’s initial assumption may be that this dude is just a hype rapper — a good one, but just a hype rapper. I’d like to respectfully and preemptively disagree: he’s not afraid to dive into the less glamorous variety of subject matter. Consider “Still On It” or “Overdue Interlude”. Sure, he’s defaulting to the “rapping about rapping” style, but he’s doing it better — with more creativity, honesty, passion, authenticity — than a lot of rappers his age and in Milwaukee as a whole. That “Overdue Interlude” man, that is easily my favorite song I’ve ever heard Ish on. And it was really nice to hear the other rapper who gives Milwaukee’s Hip hop its spirit, Bliss & Alice, on the closing track “Still On It”.

After his debut dropped I was lucky enough to talk to Ishdarr and pick apart his brain as a rapper who had very real potential of blowing up. One of the things I asked him about the importance of showing for his city in his raps, since it takes some effort to find a track that doesn’t shout out the 414. He said he was doing everything to “give light to the city.” After that he explained his desired career trajectory by saying “I’m trying to be the Chance [the Rapper] of my city.” Now, a year ago this seemed like somewhat of a lofty proclamation, but, guys, he is coming remarkably close to achieving that. Old Soul Young Spirit is a project where Ish really stepped everything up a notch. The production, his flow, his lyricism, his song-to-song transitions, they’re all great progressions for the young cat. I’m leaving Old Soul Young Spirit with the same attitude I left The Better Life with: optimistically looking forward to Ish’s career and eager to hear what will come next.

I sincerely hope Milwaukee is tuning in: New York has Joey Bada$$, Detroit has Danny Brown, and now we have IshDARR. Get listening, folks.

Personal highpoints:

“Vibe” / “Overdue Interlude” / “Still On It”

Personal lowpoints:

“Twelve”

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Charlie Johns