Artist Profile + Album Review: Shad – Flying Colours

Today is the official release date for Shad’s fourth album, Flying Colours.  While I will definitely be writing about this album in December during my Top 30 Favourite Albums of the Year Countdown, I feel compelled to do the whole Artist Profile and review now because, in my opinion, Shad is the illest Canadian hip-hop artist out right now and not enough people even know who he is, not even my fellow Canadian hip-hop fans.  It’s not like I’m digging up an obscure artist from the underground either; Shad’s third album, TSOL, justifiably won him the Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) for Best Rap Album in 2010 over Drake’s Thank Me Later album.  I feel like the next Juno Awards should see a repeat with Flying Colours winning over Nothing Was The Same; and I’m not picking on Drake on purpose, it’s just that he’s easily the most famous hip-hop-related artist in Canada.  The point is, I think Shad is the most talented hip-hop artist in Canada right now, so let’s review how I got to this train of thought.

Shad represents for many Canadian cities.  He grew up in London, Ontario, got his bachelors degree in Waterloo, and has lived in both Vancouver and Toronto.  I first heard of Shad around 2007 or 2008 when I had just begun my first year attending Wilfrid Laurier University, and I believe one of my older cousins told me about this rapper who had graduated from Laurier and had been in a similar position to the one I was just stepping into.  I mean, I like to rap too, and I thought I was about to get a business degree from Laurier just like Shad, so of course I wanted to listen to this.  I downloaded both of the albums he had out at the time, 2005’s When This is Over and 2007’s The Old Prince, which I’m sure he’d understand; students with no income can’t afford to buy EVERY album that comes out, as expressed in his single “The Old Prince Still Lives At Home”.

I thought these first two albums were alright; Shad’s rapping was definitely above average but the production just didn’t draw me in as often as it should have.  This was understandable though, I read on Wikipedia that Shad’s first album was made due to him winning a radio contest that provided the funds, so it’s not like he had access to top-notch production.  He did the best with what he had, and even used his own guitar to make some of the beats (which he plays while rapping at some of his live shows).  I found his rapping to be really creative and relatable, all while rhyming at a high level and using clever wordplay.  These albums were good enough for me to take a leap of faith and actually purchase his third album, TSOL, without having previously heard any of the songs on it (old folks be like: back in our day that’s all we could ever do!).

When I heard “Yaa I Get It”, I finally had that “holy sh**!!!!!!!!” reaction that only the best rappers can get out of me.  The rhymes, wordplay, flow, production; it was all stepped up to a whole other level.  The same can be said for the entire TSOL album as a whole, and it makes perfect sense that this won Best Rap Album at the Juno Awards.  I find that Shad’s been progressively getting better with every project he puts out.  Ever since TSOL, I’ve been a supportive fan anticipating his next album and sharing his music with anyone who I feel might be interested.

Since 2010, Shad put out a few very short projects including an EP with Skratch Bastid, and I got to see him at a few events.  I got to meet him at the 2012 Manifesto Festival where him and Jully Black taught a lesson on the art of performing, and I got my TSOL cd autographed.  I also got to see him perform in August 2013 when he opened for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis during their Canadian tour, and again in September during the 2013 Manifesto Festival.  People I talked to in the crowd at the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis show didn’t know who Shad was but enjoyed his set, and are hopefully checking out the new album.  At the 2013 Manifesto festival he previewed a performance of his new single, “Stylin'”, and I can guarantee if you see him on his Canada-wide tour starting this week, you will go nuts during that song.  Let’s get into this album review and see if he continued to evolve as anticipated.

shad13

“…but check the comments, some supporters got enough hate/ my fans don’t post ‘I love Shad’, they just say f*** Drake/ I got no problems with Drizzy of course…”
-Epilogue: Long Jawn

Hahaha, I actually wrote the first half of this article before I streamed the album; Drake’s name coming up in any discussion of Canadian hip-hop is inevitable.  It’s just the classic argument of fame versus talent, and right from the beginning of this album you can hear the difference.  Right off the bat, as expected, Shad’s rhyming more syllables per bar than Young Drizzle, and being more creative with the flow.  Shad’s also doing some different things right at the beginning too; he’s switching up the flow and going faster than I’ve heard him rap on any previous albums, and he’s getting more braggadocios with the lyrics.  This is exactly what I wanted to see from him, I always felt like he was dope but a little too modest about it.

That’s not to say this is all a bunch of battle raps, he does what he’s known for too by getting topical and personal with tracks like “Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigins)”, “He Say She Say” and “Dreams”.  Like the rest of his albums, there’s an overall laid-back vibe to this one with only a handful of tracks to turn up to, but Shad always finds a way to keep you drawn in; whether it’s the flow, the message of the song, or the technical lyricism behind the way he delivers the message.  I think Shad did a good job at expanding his reach with this album without compromising his style or character.  The guest features add to the album perfectly without out-shining Shad, whether it’s rap verses from K-Os and Eternia or sung choruses from Saukrates and Lights.

Overall, this is a great album.  Shad pushed his own boundaries while still giving core fans what they already like to hear from him.  I really enjoyed the new things he tried with his flow and I want to hear more of that in the future.  This album can be played all the way through at almost any occasion, in front of your parents or children because he mutes out the two curse words on the entire album.  I found that the production did get dull at times, but at this point I think that’s just part of Shad’s style, he wants you to be focused on his lyrics rather than having them drowned out by a flashy beat.  I still think he could’ve found some more up-tempo production that wouldn’t have taken away from the lyricism.  That’s my only issue though; other than that, it’s all aces.

My Joint:

My Grades (based on how well I connected to them, no disrespect if your experience was different):

When This is Over (2005): B-
The Old Prince (2007):
B
TSOL (2010): A-
Flying Colours (2013): A-

For videos from concerts I’ve been to, including the two Shad shows mentioned, check out the Youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjiIhS7fd3t1ZutK1va7w8g

UPDATE: Just got back from Shad’s album-release-day in-store cd signing/performance, check out the new vid on the SYpherSights Youtube channel:

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