Shad Is Hip-hop Royalty

Shad Is Hip-hop Royalty
Shad has emerged as one of Canada’s most gifted young hip-hop artists and, with his new album The Old Prince, he’s made a fresh, ingenious record. Based out of London, Ontario but currently pursuing graduate studies in Vancouver, Shad turned heads at a 2004 radio competition, winning $17,500 towards his 2005 debut, When This is Over. The independently released record showcased a budding talent with a warm flow who alternated between endearingly silly and conscious rhymes. Brandishing an acoustic guitar with a DJ and a live band, there’s something automatically unique about the old-school flavour Shad brings to contemporary hip-hop and he’s made an astonishing artistic leap with The Old Prince.

"That was definitely one thing I was trying to do — really make sure that this one is a step beyond the last one,” Shad says. "Everything from the production side to articulating my ideas in a way that was simple, succinct, and creative, came together naturally.”

Loosely woven together as a children’s story, The Old Prince is a solid slab of hip-hop, both reverent and outside of the form. With production from Toronto talents like Slakah the Beat Child and Relic the Oddity, the record has an eclectic mix-tape feel. Strains of Ali Shaheed Muhammad boost crowd-pleaser "I Don’t Like To” and the neo-soul of "Compromise” owes much to a certain Mr. West. Indeed, Shad has an allegiance to hip-hop made by suburban college dropouts yet he possesses an edgy, mature perspective.

"I felt like Kanye West’s first album did that perfectly,” he says. "The production was new but it felt like the hip-hop that you still loved, like that classic Tribe stuff. When you hit on it, or something that you feel connected with, you kind of know. That’s what I try to do; that’s the vibe that comes out naturally for me. When I think of hip-hop, that’s what I think of.”

The confident 25-year-old writes such convincing songs, he gets away with things that seem corny on paper. First there’s his penchant for playing acoustic guitar with a backing band. "It’s not fun for me to just perform my songs; that’s not a show for me. So I always try to keep the energy there and make it worth watching. The live band is nothing revolutionary but it’s a way of keeping things interesting; I can do tracks with the DJ, I can do tracks with the live band, and keep things moving.”

Secondly, in a genre where cussing to amp up a crowd is commonplace, Shad never utters an expletive. "In hip-hop, it’s weird that that stands out as something different,” he says. "It’s just one of those weird things where it’s become the language of the genre but yeah, it’s something I don’t do so I don’t bring it to my music.”

Finally, on both of his albums, Shad has incorporated elements of poetry and spoken word by his parents. Soon moving back to their native Rwanda, Francis and Bernadette Kabango have profoundly influenced their dutiful son.

"I had the idea of ‘the old prince,’ which is quasi-fairytale-ish, so I had them narrating bits and pieces,” Shad explains. "There’s also a song where they’re on the tail end of it. I’m talking about issues of black youth [in Canada] and I thought it’d be cool to have their insight on the song because I know it’s been important to me growing up.”

Balancing sharp humour, party jams, and substantial social commentary, Shad sounds wise beyond his years on The Old Prince.