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Isaiah Rashad and Kal Banx lit up the darkness to make 'The House Is Burning'

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When Isaiah Rashad and producer Kal Banx get homesick for the crib, as the only two Southern bruhs signed to West Coast powerhouse TDE are bound to sometimes, they find themselves bonding over the simplest pleasures. Like going half on a store-bought rotisserie chicken. "With mashed potatoes and cornbread," Kal adds.

"On God," Isaiah chimes in.

If Top Dawg thought there'd be fringe benefits to linking the Tennessee and Texas natives, he was right. They became fast homies before making even a lick of music together. That foundation was crucial. Cause when the music finally did come it needed to cut through everything blocking Isaiah Rashad's blessings.

Released last July, The House Is Burning could be interpreted as a metaphor for planet Earth's hot mess and Isaiah's own inner demons. To survive it all, Isaiah had to battle through rehab, writer's block and three months of refuge spent on Kal Banx's couch while his pockets were on E.

Maybe by necessity, Kal became more than a star beatmaker. Studio sessions commenced only after he led Isaiah on silly diversions down the weirdest rabbit holes of YouTube. Laughing became existential. It helped Isaiah get out of his head, and get everything in his head committed to tape. On "Hey Mista," one of several songs Banx produced or co-produced on the album, he cut and pasted bars freestyled by Zay into two verses and a bridge. And he took additional music cues from Isaiah to make beats that tapped into Zay's old soul.

Together, in the funniest sit-down of the new season of The Formula, they walk us through the making of the song that lit the spark for the album. In the process, they reveal how the best artist-producer collaborations work a lot like life — with real friends to distract us from, and soundtrack us through, all our drama. —Rodney Carmichael

ABOUT SEASON 2 OF THE FORMULA

In this season of "The Formula" we sit down with some of hip-hop's rising and most respected artist-producer duos as they dissect songs emblematic of their collective body of work — be it an album, an era or a moment in rhyme. Because the true stamp of a timeless collab comes when both musicians at play find themselves forever transformed by the mix. Find new episodes at npr.org/theformula:

Rico Nasty + Kenny Beats

Freddie Gibbs + The Alchemist

Westside Gunn + Conductor Williams

Tierra Whack + J Melodic

CREDITS

Host/Series Producer: Rodney Carmichael; Producers: Tsering Bista, Nickolai Hammar; Editor: Annabel Edwards; Art Director/Animator: CJ Riculan; Animators: Jackie Lay, Alicia Zheng; Director of Photography: Nickolai Hammar; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Jack Corbett, Nickolai Hammar, Alicia Zheng; Production Assistant: Amna Ijaz; Project Coordinator: Erin Register; Legal Adviser: Kimberly Sullivan; Consulting Editors: Jacob Ganz, Sidney Madden; Supervising Producer, Nick Michael; Senior Producer: Abby O'Neill; Managing Editor: Becky Lettenberger; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann, Keith Jenkins; Special Thanks: Hardpink Studio and Staff

MUSIC

"Hey Mista," Isaiah Rashad, The House Is Burning (2021); "Rose Water" by DJ Face

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.