Canadian rapper Shad beat out his countryman Drake for the Juno Award (Canada's Grammys) for Best Rap Album in 2011.
So, does that mean Shad is better than Drake? Well, all we're saying is that Shad's status as one of the most consistently outstanding MCs on the planet is deserved. Whether it's his inventive use of language, ear for beats, knack for storytelling, or fluid flows, Shad excels.
The charming, Kenya-born, Ontario native is returning to L.A. for a rare stateside show at The Satellite this Sunday, June 15th. We spoke to him about traveling, his latest album Flying Colours and fans who "don't like rap" but "like him."
Your song "Stylin" has the lyrics: "See I got fans that say 'Oh hey Shad, I hate rap but I like you,' / Well I hate that, but I like you / at least I like that you like me so I won't spite you / it's not your fault you're a white dude / Likes white music I like too, just don't be surprised by my IQ." Now that the record's been out for six months, has there been any sort of backlash to that lyric or have people been pretty understanding?
I think people get when I'm coming from with that line and I tried to deliver it with a sense of humor and get my point across. I feel good about how people have understood and received it. People have told me "I started listening to you and then I started listening to other people" and that's cool, I do appreciate that. I don't mind that at all.
You completed a graduate program in Liberal Studies. Has that had much of an effect on your writing?
Not directly. I think, in some ways, indirectly. I'm a little more of a serious person now. Maybe I engage in discussions and thinking and talking a little more seriously. That may just be me getting older, I have no idea. But writing raps is so different from writing for school, I don't see much crossover.
Flying Colours seems like a heavier record than your other releases.
Yeah, so there could be a connection there. That could also be where my head was at that particular moment. I still have fun writing lighter stuff, but I see that connection too. It's a heavier record, a little more in-depth.
That in mind, were there any topics on Flying Colours you were scared to touch on?
I think I was up for the challenge. There's a few of them I felt were a challenge. "Fam Jam" was one I was trying to say a lot of different things with, and really get the tone right in terms of being serious, as well as celebratory, as well as uplifting. "Love Means" is ambitious in terms of talking about love, which is such a big thing, but in a way that's interesting. But, that's what I wanted to do.
Is it harder to perform those songs live?
Yeah, that's always tough for me because a lot of those songs I feel I can't do them live or even put them on the album sometimes because, after that song, where does the album go from here? For example, "Progress," that for me was an intense, abstract and heavy song. I don't want to put it last, and it's a hard one to do live because my live show is really based a lot around trying to have fun with the music and have a good time with the people. I try to fit in a couple of those songs because some people really like them, and it's rewarding to feel I was able to go there in a live show and give people a more dynamic experience, but it's hard to do.
Before the release of Flying Colours last year, you put out The Spring Up EP as a free download, which I was surprised to discover was made after the album was completed. Was there anything you wanted to do on the EP you didn't get to do on the album?
It's just a bit easier when you put something online in terms of samples, so that was nice to just sample whatever we wanted. Also, just to do something stripped down and a bit more simple in terms of the execution, a little more raw. With Flying Colours I was trying to challenge myself with developing ideas further, whereas The Spring Up was just to make some hip-hop. A "I like that sample, let's loop it up" kind of thing.
On the EP was the song "Homie" with Cadence Weapon, that largely dealt with the issues of traveling. As someone who travels as much as you, was that cathartic to put out?
Yeah. As much as I travel, I'm a homebody. I love being home, I don't take vacations, I just love being home. So, yeah, there's something that definitely rings true for me and felt good to be able to put out there and shout out my neighbors. The unfortunate thing with touring is that it's hardly like traveling at all. You don't get to see things unless you get a burst of energy or you're a particularly energetic person. You just go to the venue, go to the hotel and it's groundhog day. The most tiring thing is lifting your stuff. When you're home, you don't have to lift your stuff. I just like the simplicity and convenience of being at home. I like being where my friends are and where my family is. You could be in the coolest city in the world, but if you don't know anybody, it's not that cool. It's always the people that make it. I do love playing and connecting with people, and the fun of performing. That's why I do it.
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You have a unique style as an artist. In terms of your lyrics, you seem interested in syllable-stacking, but while most rappers who share that passion have a staccato flow, yours is much smoother in your delivery. When you're writing, do you come up with the lyrics first, or do you envision the flow and build the lyrics around that?
It's pretty much the lyrics first and then the flow comes out of that. Definitely the words dictate the flow to a great extent. I just try to get the words right, and from there deliver them in a way that's as fluid and understandable as possible.