Bailey Becher photographed Isaiah Raps and his featured album musicians for this shoot.
Ithaca and Harlem-based rapper and producer Isaiah Horton, stage name Isaiah_Raps, will be releasing his latest album, "I Broke It," on November 23. He initially conceptualized the project over a year ago.
“I just got an idea one day,” the 21-year-old artist and Ithaca College senior explained of his process, which began in October of 2017. “Most the songs were conceptualized in that month,” he continued. And as the year went by, collaboration became a key ingredient in making the album come together.
The 14-song album features over five additional credited artists and groups — all of whom come from a variety of musical backgrounds. From singers like NyathePapaya, who Isaiah has known since high school, to Ithaca funk bands Butter and The Sunshine Group, to Isaiah’s own brother, Louis Major, the album is an incredibly diverse musical soundscape. The first track introduces listeners to the concept of the album, which Isaiah wants to keep secret until its release. Titled, “Oh Shit (intro),” this 30-second skit features the voices of Isaiah_Raps along with saxophone player, Matthew Badalucco, and Sunshine of The Sunshine Group.
“It was actually the first thing I thought of,” Isaiah laughed. “It was very improvised, but we just knew at the end of this skit, ‘X’ had to happen.”
Isaiah said he wants the album’s concept to speak for itself. It’s clear Isaiah has a love for his craft and a passion for the story his music is telling, in bringing this all together. Rather than stressing over the challenge of combining so many disparate styles of music, Isaiah said he took it as more of a treat.
“A lot of those people are my friends, I’ve known them for a long time,” he explained. “They do music in different facets and we’ve been trying to do things together... I’ve just always wanted to collaborate with these kinds of artists.”
“A lot of those people are my friends ... I’ve just always wanted to collaborate with these kinds of artists.”
— Isaiah Horton
Building the album from the ground-up was no simple task, and by producing the entire project Isaiah displays his dedication. It takes a lot of work to do what Isaiah has done on top of being a full-time student with a job. With consistent live performances alongside working with collaborators on the album, Isaiah spends most of his free time on music, so he’s made his production space a comfortable one.
His dorm room setup is “half-music, half-gaming.” Wires for his keyboard, computer, monitor, PlayStation 4 and speakers are woven down the back of his desk. His laptop rests on an extended drawer atop a pile of loose papers. The larger monitor screen displays clips from Naruto or gameplay from Dark Souls, serving as a visual aid, either for inspiration or simply as a background image to occasionally shift focus to after long mixing sessions.
Isaiah recently began streaming video games on YouTube, so he’s adapted his setup for webcam recording as well. Handy little wire hooks keep everything under control on top of the desk, but the drawer full of wires it leads back to is organized chaos that only Isaiah could sort through. When he opens up Logic Pro X to make his music he has everything he needs in front of him to begin recording.
“I just do the damn thing man, I like to do it, so I do the damn thing. That’s all I see it as,” he says, justifying why he doesn’t worry about the balance of work and pleasure. “Sometimes shit is annoying,” but at the end of the day it isn’t just a job for him, “when it’s not fun, I wouldn’t do it.”
“I just do the damn thing man, I like to do it, so I do the damn thing.”
Isaiah’s own versatility is on full display on I Broke It as well. Despite introing the song “Lows” by saying he can’t sing, Isaiah actually delivers an impressive and unique vocal performance on the entire album. He jumps between multiple characters and perspectives, including his alien persona Mastah Gildahide, who fans of his previous mixtape may be familiar with. “The other voices are kind of just expressions,” he says, and each of these vocal shifts adds to the emotion that flows through the project. His cool, laid back performance of the hook on “Swimming Hole” invites listeners to relax and groove while hearing the intensity of tracks like “Lean” will get your blood pumping.
“I feel like in our music both of us are very expressive,” Badalucco described about working with Isaiah, “It’s like a feelings-oriented music. Especially with the sound of the saxophone: it’s very similar to the human voice.”
“I feel like in our music both of us are very expressive, It’s like a feelings-oriented music. ... It’s very similar to the human voice.”
— Matthew Badalucco
And it’s quite clear through his production that Isaiah wants his talent and that of his collaborators to shine through. Despite every song being very layered and purposefully crafted, there’s a focus to the project that never gets lost. Ambient sounds of the forest can be heard in almost every track, either more clearly over pieces of spoken word or as part of the beat. The funk and boom-bap sounds that mostly dominate the first half of the album transition into more modern spacey vibes by the end.
This is all concludes in the final track of the album which hits very hard with powerful drums and memorable features from Badalucco on saxophone and rapper Danny Phantom. Isaiah has cited Mac Miller, MF Doom, Tyler the Creator, Danny Brown and Isaiah Rashad as some of his favorite rappers of all time, and there is a clear influence from many of these artists in his sound.
The album’s focus can in part be credited to the evolution of Isaiah’s creative process. In his previous projects, which you can find on SoundCloud and DatPiff, he was a lot less experienced in music production.
“I didn’t really make as many instrumentals myself,” he said. “It was kind of like sourcing. ‘Scrounging,’ I like to call it. You know, going through YouTube, going through SoundCloud. Trying to figure it out, trying to get someone to send you a beat.”
This entire process is very different from what happened with I Broke It, in which Isaiah conceptualized the entire soundscape, “if it’s not my production itself, it’s my arrangement or my brother’s.”
Several of the songs on I Broke It have already been performed live. Last spring when Billboard charting rapper A Boogie wit da Hoodie performed at Ithaca College, Isaiah_Raps was given the opportunity to open. While Isaiah has already performed numerous times in his career, this larger stage presented a unique set of challenges.
“With far-field speakers and stuff like that, it’s kinda hard to get the perspective and like keep your performance tight, especially with a band and other people,” he said.
This experience helped Isaiah develop some of the songs which were only rough cuts at the time of the A Boogie show, and since then he’s performed a good chunk of the album live over the passed year.
Isaiah will be opening up for another Billboard charting artist, Shwayze, at The Haunt in Ithaca on November 30. This will be a full week after the release of I Broke It on November 23, so you can listen to the album and then get the full experience seeing some it live. For those of you who haven’t noticed yet, the release date is Black Friday, the insane day of sales that takes place after Thanksgiving. While Isaiah choose this date for a reason, you’ll have to listen to the album to find out what that is.
When the album releases on November 23 you’ll be able to find it on Spotify.
You can listen to Isaiah_Raps speak about the current state of rap with his friend and collaborator The Miserable Genius on Loosely Defined.
You can listen to members of Butter discuss their music on Summer Beat with Kylee Roberts.