Tarrel Gulledge was stuck in a recidivism loop. He’d go from being homeless to a mental institution to jail over and over again.
The last time he was released from jail—put in for petty crimes like stealing food and sleeping in cars—he had a moment. At a crossroads, he had a second where he thought it’d be easier to just go back to his 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement. But he decided to go another route, put everything into his music and King Iso was born.
Gulledge took the stage name King Iso in reference to his solitary confinement – “iso” as it’s called – and made a positive, viewing the letters as an acronym meaning ‘I Shall Overcome.’ He rose to prominence in Omaha, putting out mixtapes and EPs before ultimately signing with Tech N9ne’s record label Strange Music.
King Iso has a fast-paced West Coast chopper flow, not unlike Tech himself. While his songs and lyrics have always been deeply personal, early into touring, he found himself afraid to perform a song called “Don’t Let Go,” a suicide awareness anthem about his own struggles. But when he performed it, the response was overwhelming.
“The response shifted my energy and what I wanted to do musically,” says King Iso. “I always wanted to talk about it, and it’s become therapy for me to put it on these records.”
Fans came up to him after shows, sharing their struggles and thanking him for sharing his. A young girl in 2018 came to the concert with nothing to do. After the show, she hugged him tight and explained that she had planned on committing suicide the next day but felt like she ended up at the concert for a reason and wouldn’t follow through.
“I’d pick that over a million dollars any day,” says King Iso. “I’d pick that over flossing Lamborghinis and diamonds any day.”
King Iso says moments like that illustrate how important it is to talk about mental health and to create a safe space for people to know they are not alone. He says that talking about mental health in rap tracks reaches a different group, including the Black community, that often doesn’t talk about it.
“It’s almost like trying to drop off a cure, in the form of CDs, in a zombie-infested space,” says King Iso.
True to his word, King Iso’s new album iLLdren goes where many rap records don’t. Songs like
“Way You Are” discuss his struggles with mental health and neurodivergence, telling the listener that they are okay, just the way they are.
On “iLLdren” the subject matter spans King Iso’s life, pulling from early struggles to challenges today like sobriety and raising children. Iso addresses Black fatherhood on tracks like “My Kids,” where he talks about the importance of breaking trauma cycles and being there for kids with lines like, ‘we gotta be present, not just buy presents.’
The album features collaborations with Tech N9ne, Taebo Tha Truth, C-Mob, X-Raided, and others. The album will be released everywhere Oct. 27, but you can preorder at strangemusicinc.net. A pre-order of the album gets you an autographed CD and a t-shirt.
King Iso is currently on a national tour with Tech N9ne and Hollywood Undead through Nov. 19, tickets for those shows can also be found at strangemusicinc.net.
Listen to King Iso’s “My Kids” here https://bit.ly/3rXm9WP