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"I ain't mean to get deep all of a sudden"
words Sven Carlsson / images Press
After the release of his second album The Old Prince, and before his 2010 album TSOL came out, Beatnik kicked it with Canada’s finest emcee Shad to talk lyricism and substance.
I’ve always been, and still am, a sucker for lyricism. As a teen, I measured a rapper’s quality by how many syllables and punchlines they could pack into their rhymes. The late great Big L was my hero; how he’d pack two multi-syllablic punches in the first bar, with one final, longer punchline in the second. These days, I appreciate very different qualities in rappers; honesty, insightfulness, and enthusiasm, to name a few. Shad K possesses all of these and, beneath it all, is a damn good lyricist, too.
Anyone unfamiliar with Shad ought to peep this video. In a 6 minute freestyle, Shad delivers a mezmerizing freestyle, showing not just that MC’ing is second nature to him, but also that he has a tendency to stray from simple bragging when delivering his lyrics. It comes so naturally that Shad apologizes for dipping into the theme of religion for a few seconds – ”I ain’t mean to get deep all of a sudden,” he says before carrying on.
But Shad can’t always avoid touching on things beyond who’s got the best rhymes. His development as an artist has led him to treat lyricism as a means to lure listeners to what he’s really trying to put across to his audience. Like my taste in rappers, Shad’s music is no longer focused around how things rhyme; other things are taken in as well.
”It comes down to the intention; am I trying to impress or am I trying to communicate something? [Wordplay and MC skills] should be about engaging people and pulling them into the meaning. Sometimes wordplay even brings up new meanings and insights that I didn’t consciously think of, which is cool. But ultimately the skills and all that should point to something more important than itself,” Shad explains over the internet.
The Ontario, Canada born MC goes from raising religious themes and love over softer, dream-like beats on ‘I Heard You Had a Voice Like an Angel’ and ‘What We All Want’, to human greed and racism on beautifully penned ‘Exile’ and ‘Brother’, all four from Shad’s 2007 sophomore album, The Old Prince.
‘Brother’, in particular, discusses how the concept of blackness and how it’s being misconstrued in North America today. Gripping piano and strings leads the track to its eclipse, with Shad’s own parents sharing their reflections at the end of the song.
Hailing from Rwanda, Shad also raises the legacy of the Rwandan genocide of the 1990’s (”I’ll Never Understand” from his 2005 debut album When This is Over), of which several of his relatives were victims.
With such strong experiences, music becomes a way ”to try to find hope in life period”. There is no option for Shad but to ventilate his thoughts. ”For me, it’s the only kind of music I care to make. If I’m not putting out something that’s unique to me, I don’t feel like it’s worth releasing,” he explains.
The weightiness of a lot of Shad’s songs are contrasted by two other crucial components of his personality; spontanaeity and humor, both in recordings and on stage. He’s never far from an improvised freestyle at a live show, and ‘The Old Prince Still Lives at Home’ ends with an a capella verse because Shad ”couldn’t afford the whole beat.” With that uplifting and humorous taint to his music, Shad is reminiscent of Biz Markie or the Native Tongue click’s playful approach to making music.
Whether handing us food for thought on a variety of topics, or improvising and clowning inside the mic booth, optimism pervades Shad’s music. ”I try to be honest but hopeful at the same time. I think I’m basically just sorting through how I approach life and different situations through my music, and if I have some hope about those things in my heart, it’s gonna come out in my songs.”
And he has plenty of reasons to feel hopeful. Kanye West recently posted the video for ‘Compromise’, off The Old Prince, on his blog and anyone in tune to his music is trying to anticipate his next move. Shad is an accomplished MC, guitar player and live performer; his complex-but-simple lyricism does not obstruct, but enhances the subject matter, and authentic emotions are always on display. ’Artist’ is a more fitting title than ’MC,’ but he never shies away from proving how nice he is lyrically.