While Drake and Co. were organizing the debut album stream of More Life, now-independent rapper Isa Muhammad almost silently dropped his second mixtape Safe Guard Ur Joy on March 17, 2017. Formerly signed to Interscope Records through Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group imprint, the Inglewood, California lyricist was toying with thoughts of retirement after releasing the 25 track Diabolical Bastard Billionaire Genius in 2016.
Leaving the label only to regroup two months later and release new material might seem controversial at first, particularly considering the buzz the first mixtape generated for Ross’ formerly homeless signee, though as Isa writes on twitter, “Some of the things I be rapping about are prolly [sic] too controversial for Ross & MMG to support.”
Considering MMG’s lineup, Isa couldn’t be closer to the truth. The namesake for Ross’ imprint is one of re-appropriated elegance taking the ultra-luxury car brand and applying it to a label bolstered by Ross himself and Meek Mill, both of whom are known more for financial splendor than the mental gravity of their bodies of work. Even Ross’ labelmates Wale and Stalley, who produce content closer to that of Isa are relatively ignored in favor of promoting Ross, Meek and until 2016, French Montana.
Industry mix-ups aside, Isa’s sophomore project (which is more of an EP despite being billed as a mixtape) is the antithesis to his last. Instead of the at times rage-filled bars critical of systematic black oppression on Diabolical, Safe Guard Ur Joy is a tale of personal corruption in the face of futile social change.
Produced entirely by fellow Californian Merlaku Ra, Isa’s skepticism, anger and creativity are still apparent, though he has taken a calmer tone in exchange for an intimate experience. Isa swaps the heavier, horn driven beats of Diabolic for Merlaku’s mellower bass lines and snares that add to the EP’s cozy lo-fi charm. On the intro cut, “Backwoods & Tea,” guitar strumming compliments a crooning saxophone in the background as Isa contemplates the difficulty in attaining life’s simplicities. In keeping with Isa’s skepticism, he raps of chemtrails and news channel lies which he approaches with a bystander’s mentality that he maintains throughout the project.
Wood block percussion and bass cohabitate on “Only 4 Diamonds” which contrasts the sonic quality of the hook with each verse. His main bars sink behind the beat in a soliloquy with the lowered tone of a prayer that eventually give way to a much clearer hook on which Isa identifies the pressures to his faith, patience and innocence. Similarly, on “District 7, against a stripped-backed beat comprised of tempered percussion and guitars Isa continues to shed light on his headspace as he tries to “keep [him]self out the hellfire.” Additionally, Isa’s contrasts his religion and spirituality with imagery of nuclear explosions and slave ships to echo a similar consciousness to his last album, albeit with a subdued energy and delivery. Isa continues these juxtapositions on the final track “Major” as he grounds himself in a hook on which he asks for God’s forgiveness for his sins.
Isa’s bystander approach this time is appropriate given the density of the topics covered in his last mixtape. As he deemed Diabolical a “classic album,” repeating such a feat would be taxing both mentally and systematically, considering both projects are separated by a mere three months. By implementing a more personal stance on Safe Guard Ur Joy Isa can utilize his lyricism to the same effect with differing motivation, allowing him to expand his stylistic range while maintaining the same fan base.