On this Monday afternoon in April, we step out of my car and into this North Hollywood comic book store, where Rashad is greeted like a high roller at a Vegas casino. A dazed exaltation sweeps over him as soon as he enters; it’s clear that this is his Shangri-La. The only problem is that he already owns almost everything they can sell.
“It kinda helped me with my depression,” Rashad shrugs, explaining his ever-deepening infatuation with comics. He’s a few weeks shy of his 30th birthday and speaks with the fatalism of someone who understands that life usually comes with qualifiers. Depression and temptation are tumors, but they can be shrunk down, at least temporarily.
“Comics are a better form of escapism… a healthier form,” he says.
“Than what?” I ask.
“Drugs,” he reflexively answers, laughing. “Drugs and doing reckless, thrill-seeking shit.”
For the next half-hour, Rashad offers a graduate-level tutorial on modern comics and graphic novels, a kindly gesture towards me, someone who hasn’t read a comic book since DC killed and revived Superman shortly after Isaiah was born. I don’t know Tom King from Chip Zdarsky, Ed Brubaker from Andrew MacLean. For the benighted, these are the kinds of guys who pop up in Google searches decked out in fedoras and newsboy caps and wispy auburn beards at Comic-Con.
Rashad dreams of one day writing his own comic and creating its soundtrack. It’s the organic fate of the little boy who retreated into the computer lab after school, writing his own Dragon Ball Z strips while waiting for his mother to finish work at the beauty salon. He wanted to be a professional wrestler too, but genetics did him few favors on the height front. Much later, before rap took off, he seriously debated heeding his mom’s advice and becoming an electrician.
But now, in comic heaven, Rashad points at the East of West series and tells me: “This is about death, famine, war, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
I ask if he thinks a lot about death. A new song from The House is Burning opens: “Feet don’t fail me now, I’m dead”; his lyrics have frequently thrown up suicidal thoughts and random morbidity.
“Nah. Kinda. I used to, but not so much anymore,” he explains. “I’m kinda okay with it, as long as it don’t hurt.”
This is part of what makes Rashad compelling. He has the gift of subverting clichés and expectations without coming off pretentious. He’s funny without being goofy or whimsical. On the first song I ever heard from him, a track called “Gusto” that predates his debut mixtape Cilvia Demo, he boasted: “I just ride around in my Bentley, it’s a Civic.” He’s ready to die, but not if it hurts. Today, he wears a plain white tee beneath a grunge flannel, blue jeans, and Birkenstocks. Anyone who doesn’t notice the blinding grill hiding behind his surgical mask might mistake him for an animator who just got off work at Disney Studios in nearby Burbank. Well, except for the fact that he’s arrived with his 7-year old son, a photographer, his engineer, the TDE President (and son of Top Dawg) Moosa Tiffith, and me, a journalist attempting to heal from the concussive realization that the Power Rangers were recently rebooted as an adult comic book series.