Locals: Rashad

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From the February 21, 2013 edition

Starting in his teenage prodigy years, Rashad Thomas was a traditionalist R&B singer in the major-label system, but deals with RCA, Columbia and Universal (which released his single “Sweet Misery” in 2003) all eventually stalled out in label purgatory.

In recent years, the Columbus musician found a new claim to fame crafting rich, melodious streetscape beats, most prominently on Massillon-born rapper Stalley’s 2011 breakout project, Lincoln Way Nights. (You’d never believe how well synths, tubas and 808s go together.)

With his star rising again, Rashad jumped at the chance to launch a new project of his own into orbit. The luxuriant Museum, released last May as a free download, was designed as his tour de force.

“As much as I'm a hip-hop producer, I'm a singer-songwriter too in almost like a folk music sense,” Rashad said. “Since the whole Lincoln Way Nights success, I kind of had to marry the two. Museum is a weird hybrid of my beats and my songs.”

The project accrued acclaim amongst those who heard it, but ultimately it was slept-on enough that Rashad felt like it deserved a second promotional push. This week his Elev8tor Music label released a deluxe version of the album with four new tracks for purchase through outlets like iTunes and Spotify.

“I always wanted to sell it, so after a while it was a little bit of that,” Rashad said. “And I still wanted to release more videos and more music.”

The time is certainly right for an album like Museum. One of the past year’s biggest music stories was a new wave of artful R&B, with audio auteurs such as Frank Ocean and Miguel scoring critical acclaim, radio hits and Grammys.

“I think it comes from the independence of the music industry in general,” Rashad said. “R&B's never been independent music. It's a mainstream, major-label format music. Now kids are doing R&B from the heart. It really changes the whole landscape. Miguel and Frank Ocean were not supposed to be up for Grammys.”

That wave shows no signs of cresting; Rashad is hoping he can ride it to the stardom that’s been within sniffing distance so many times before. Whether Museum is the tipping point remains unclear, but Rashad isn’t ready to leave his opus in the rearview yet.

“I think I have a little leeway because people are still gradually getting into it,” he said. “I definitely want to release a new project soon. I just can't move on yet. I don't feel like the whole world has caught on.”

Not that Rashad is resting on past accomplishments. He’s crafting beats for Stalley’s Maybach Music Group debut, attempting to capture a big-budget rap aesthetic while maintaining the integrity of his signature sound. (Regarding major label executives: “They're not Lincoln Way Nights fanatics, really.”) He plans to hit the road as Stalley’s DJ and do some gigs of his own. And he’s aiming to spread his songwriting and production talents across an array of new R&B projects: “Just the best, man. I'm shooting for the biggest albums in the country.”