Shad was on a good run.
When he released 2005’s When This Is Over, an album financed a won radio talent contest, folks got their first glimpse at the Ontario-based wordsmith. People, including music critics, liked what they heard. Check the album’s Wikipedia page; you won’t find a single poor review on there.
“I think everyone has their preferences, but for me, I love writing,” Shad said in an interview with Rhyme Junkie. “Recording can be hard for me. It’s like you’re performing, but not for anyone. The moment of creating and writing is really fun for me.”
Right from the start, Shad was able to display his ability to put on a serious hat (“I’ll Never Understand”), and follow immediately with a lighthearted jam with Eddie Vedder references (“Rock to It” – catch him live by grabbing Pearl Jam Lincoln tickets). The best part about this album is that despite the array of topics, it never felt scattered or random. There’s a controlled madness that has more or less stayed consistent throughout Shad’s discography.
“I like to do that on all my albums, write songs that come out of different moods,” he said. “You get really different songs, and I like playing a wide range, because if someone is listening to you for 42 minutes, you want to give them different stuff.”
Mixtapes aside (good mixtapes, mind you), you can tell that Shad is gaining ground. More specifically, you can hear it. From When this is Over to 2007’s The Old Prince, to 2010’s TSOL, you can hear the production get crisper, bigger, and more expensive (whether it was or not is unclear) as the years went by. Even so, he’s managed to stay humble. Despite sounding bigger, and adding to his fanbase, his lyrics nor his music never lost substance.
With his newest album, Flying Colours, was set for release, how much bigger and expensive was it going to sound? Was he going to blow up? Was it going to hurt his sound? Was it going to sound bigger at all?
Shad was on a good run, and since the release of Flying Colours, one could argue he’s been running faster.
“I really wanted to push myself, and push my ideas as far as they could go. If I had a concept for a song, I wanted to see how far I could push that idea musically or lyrically,” he said. “I wanted to challenge myself, even in terms of my work ethic in terms of how far I can take something and how far I can develop something. That’s why it sounds so ambitious.”
Ultimately, the album did have the bigger sound, but like always, Shad remained consistent. He had silly songs, serious songs, and some stuff in-between. He put together some of his best work, including “Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins)”, a track with samples from Fugees and Thrones (Kanye & Jay-Z). All put together, the song gives off an Arrested Development-type feel with lyrics to match.
The track, as he explains on his website, isn’t just about his direct family. He said he has several “cousins” in the video, explaining that not all of them are direct cousins, but rather close friends who have helped him along the way.
It opens with him talking and joking with his aunt, trying to decide which of his nieces and nephews are his favorite. Naturally, Shad insists it’s him. From there, the song takes off, as does the celebration.
This isn’t the only fun song on the record, not by a longshot. This isn’t even the only fun single on the record. Take “Stylin”, for example. The opening 4 or 5 seconds leads the listener to think that a conscious track may be in store. Once the beat drops and Shad starts his verse, however, the fun ensues. Jordan/LeBron references are among a myriad of topics that he hits (speaking of hoops, he’s rooting for the Spurs in this year’s finals).
Yes, the song is a fun one, but it’s also one of his most impressive lyrically. He’s telling jokes, stories, and antidotes in a very conversational tone, all with some of the album’s most impressive lyric schemes and ideas. With this song, you’re amused, impressed, and jamming out all at once.
“I like those moments that feel silly-funny, and I like to find those when I can,” he said. “I like that aspect of music. I like the fact that it can be really fun in a simple kind of way.”
So, now that this album has been released, he’s on a nation-wide tour. Currently, he’s hitting the west coast, with shows lined up in Seattle and Los Angeles. He’s hit several parts of Canada, as well as the Midwest (including Soundset). The tour will go on for a while, and he’ll probably pick up some more shows along the way, but what’s next for Shad?
For starters, he isn’t worried about fame. If the consistent integrity in his music doesn’t already prove it, he’s also saying it out loud.
“Unless it’s for practical reasons, but no, not at all,” he said, when asked about his popularity. “I just keep working. I love it, and I want to keep at it and get better. If people come across my music, then they come across it. It’s totally fine to me either way.”
While an artist losing his head in the midst fame isn’t always a detriment to the music (see: John Lennon, Kanye West. Though, those may be hyperbolic examples), it certainly gives the listener peace of mind. If nothing else, that’s what Shad’s music can provide: peace of mind. His music is good, and has always been good. He’s allowed himself to try different things, and experiment with different sounds, but his message, while changing with the times, has never felt preachy. It has never felt state. It has never felt forced, nor staged.
His music has displayed consistency without bringing on redundancy, and that is not an easy task. As he continues to grow as an artist and find his peak in popularity, he’ll have a strong history to lean on.