Oftentimes the path to success takes unexpected turns. In the music business, acts throughout history have had to face the complications of the record label structure, which can include losing a deal that was thought to be the stepping stone to stardom.
How that person responds to the drawback is usually what determines the next step in their life. Do they just give up on their dreams? Or do they use that experience to gain knowledge on how to achieve those goals?
Atlanta-based rapper Issa Thompson signed to the now defunct Jive Records at just 16 years old. But once the label was shut down in 2011, Issa was left to reevaluate the direction of his career. He didn't fold. For Thompson, it was about building something new out of the rubble left behind from Jive’s collapse.
“People think when you get a record deal your whole life changes. It’s a big misconception about that,” Issa tells AllHipHop.com. “I learned how the music industry goes. I learned how these labels work. I learned how it is when you come into a label and you don’t have much of a fan base. At the end of the day, it made me better, it made me stronger.”
While Issa did not have a large swarm of fans at the time he stepped into the Jive offices, he has since built a loyal base of supporters for his music. The completely independent artist’s Twitter account boasts over 94,000 followers, and his Instagram tops 128,000 followers.
Issa has been able to maintain and expand his base by exposing listeners to a wide variety of sounds. His mixtapes range from the street-centered King Issa to the explicitly conscious Lost Prophet to the Trap-influenced This Summer. The catalog comes together to present a central theme the young rhymer refers to as “Trap Conscious.”
“Since the beginning of my career, my music is just a powerful type music. It’s not all just dance, Trap, or party. I’ve always - since I started rapping - had messages in my music,” says Issa. “My real fans know everything I’ve done in the past and up to this year.”
The beginning of Issa’s turn toward making music began in Washington, DC. Around the age of 8, Issa asked his father to pen some lines for him to recite. Dad recognized a gift in his boy and began training him in the art of rap. Eventually, Issa took on the task of writing his own lyrics.
About four years later, Issa moved to Atlanta where he continued creating raps. He began working with different artists and producers in the city. He even teamed with ATL tastemaker DJ Holiday to host his tapes. The honor roll student also built a working relationship and personal friendship with singer/actor Jacob Latimore.
“Me and Jacob have been friends since I had my first record deal at 16 or 17. That’s like my little brother. You can expect me and Jacob to be working together for the rest of our careers. We’re family,” Issa states.
Latimore collaborations such as “Like Em All” and "Breathe” are examples of Issa’s ability to appeal to a female audience. But at the heart of what the entertainer is trying to express through his music is a much larger message.
Issa looks to one of the all time greats as the ideal symbol of what he wants to accomplish as an artist. Scroll through his IG page and you will find several photos of reggae icon Bob Marley. The thoughts communicated through classic Marley tunes such as “One Love” and "Get Up, Stand Up" should be where the nation and the world is headed, according to Issa.
“That’s my biggest inspiration spiritually. He represented revolution, and I’m a young revolutionary. I relate to a lot of his teachings,” says Issa about Marley. “I feel like his spirit supports me. What I represent is a lot of things that Bob Marley would talk about. He spoke not just for oppressed people, but he represented one love among all people, all races.”
Issa presented his own version of rebel music with the Don Cannon hosted Lost Prophet. Despite touching on timely social issues, the 2013 project was not as well received as Issa’s previous work.
“Lost Prophet was a very conscious mixtape. I think that’s why people overlooked it. It was too over their head. I don’t think people grabbed on to it. Especially, the youth,” he explains.
This Summer was a return to a more youth-friendly style. However, Issa has not completely left behind the idea of addressing relevant topics. He describes his recent record “Whips & Chains” as a spiritual release that needed to happen.
“I wanted to get that off my chest to let people know I’m not a slave to the jewelry or to the normal rap lifestyle - popping bottles, b*tches and all that stuff. I’m not a slave to any of those things. I’m rapping about it, because this is what ya’ll want to hear. This is what it is in the times that we live in,” explains Issa. “But on ‘Whips & Chains,’ I’m letting you know I have a conscious mind and I know what’s going on. I know they give us these cars and jewelry so we’ll shut the hell up and won’t talk about what’s real out here.”
“Whips & Chains” is ushering in Issa’s next project called No Rules. The January 2016 collection is set to be all revolutionary music. His approach was to adopt the trendy style of This Summer to reel in the public, and then hit them with more mindful music.
It's similar to the way 2Pac dropped “I Get Around” and OutKast dropped “Ms. Jackson,” and then listeners uncovered Pac’s "Souljah's Revenge" and Kast’s “Toilet Tisha" as well.
Issa provides details about No Rules, “It’s going back to that Lost Prophet kind of feel. Me being able to bounce back-and-forth is what makes me different from everybody. No other artist since 2Pac has been able to bounce back to talking about something in their music, and at the same time, I’m speaking for the streets and being the voice of the youth. Future is the voice of the streets. I’ll give him that. I’m talking about the voice for every different view and side.”
Some of Issa’s upcoming music will also offer his reflections on a serious situation that he was unfortunately connected to. In June, an Alabama man was arrested after he pretended to be Issa on Facebook in order to sexually assault women.
Even though he was not directly involved in the incidents, Issa felt the need to apologize to his fans. He attempted to contact the victims, but because the case is still open he was not able to reach out to the women directly. It appears the ordeal still troubles him at times. Again, he hopes that something positive will come from such as negative circumstance.
“I’m not saying it needed to happen, but the incident brought light to the fact people are impersonating other people for all the wrong reasons. It’s sending a message to young people to be more aware to what’s happening on social media,” says Issa. “People get catfished all the time, but I don’t think it’s ever been a situation that has been this harsh where two girls got raped. I feel horrible that it had to be my name, but all I can do is rise above it. I know that God won’t give me nothing that I can’t handle.”
Issa hopes other young people become more aware of the dangers of interacting with strangers online. Beyond that, there are more lessons Thompson wants to be part of sharing with the people. The Good Life Music Group performer is looking to use his status as an artist to contribute to the overall lifting of consciousness among the Millennial generation.
“There’s so much stuff our youth needs to hear from somebody like me. J. Cole and Kendrick are giving it to you, but I’m talking about someone coming out of Atlanta and speaking to the youth. It’s a new voice,” declares Issa.
Read other installments of AllHipHop’s #ATLRiseUp series here.
Stream/download Issa’s This Summer mixtape below.