Tue, Nov 26 (8 pm)
'Warmest wishes to those that chose to visit the show,” welcomes Shad on the intro of Flying Colours, his fourth full-length album.
Flying Colours demands attention right from that greeting, and while not an outright concept album, there's an evident narrative guiding listeners through the depths of Shad's personal experience—the highs, lows and everything in between as he spouts rhymes that avoid the quintessential rap tropes of girls, money and excess, instead delving into poignant personal insights surrounding life, love and society.
The Kenyan-born, Canadian-raised Juno Award-winning wordsmith has firmly planted himself at the forefront of the country's rap scene, which has no doubt grown in recent years with the rise of the likes of Drake (who Shad actually topped on CBC's list of the greatest Canadian rappers, coming in second behind Maestro Fresh Wes), but Shad feels it's still got a ways to go. He readily admits he never thought he would be making a fourth album, yet here he is.
“It's such a difficult business in general and especially for a rapper in Canada. There's not a lot of us that do this, so I think I went in with pretty realistic expectations and I've just been pleasantly surprised the whole time,” says Shad, who, while launching a music career, managed to obtain a Master of Arts degree in Liberal Studies from Simon Fraser University. “There's still not a lot of artists that break nationally, so the kind of trajectory I was on at the time, going to school and everything, it was great. I got the chance to make this first album and then I might be doing something else, something a lot different as a career.”
Some artists approach every show as if it's their last and Shad has adopted that mindset for each new album. When he began working on Flying Colours, which comes on the heels of TSOL—the album that snagged him his Juno—and a five-track EP released last July, Shad knew he wanted to push himself further than ever before.
“I want to feel like, yeah, this is something worth hearing, something that's inspired and has thought and effort put into it,” he explains. “As I keep going I get a better sense of what I'm doing. I learn things and so, in a sense, making songs gets easier, and as it gets easier I try to up the degree of difficulty a little bit. So that's kind of how I wanted it to stand out. I wanted to reflect that, that I have a better sense of what I'm doing. I can represent a broader range of ideas and emotions now in music. I think that's the way I'm trying to grow.”
“Remember to Remember” was the first track Shad began to chip away at for the album and the last one to be finished. The song features Lights (one of many collaborations including with Saukrates, Skratch Bastid, Ian Kamau and K-OS) and its title is a mantra of sorts, repeated at different points throughout the album. It's a reminder to acknowledge what we have, rather than focusing on what we do not possess.
“I just had less of an idea from the outset of what exactly I was trying to say with that song versus something like 'Fam Jam' that's a little more clear in its concept … I like having songs like that that take me on a bit of a journey and follow me around for a year and a half and track my thinking, so yeah, that was a special song for me, for sure,” Shad says, acknowleding the final verse in particular, a commentary on the violence and competitiveness so prevalent in modern society. “The last verse was the last verse that I wrote for the album, and really helped me have some hope around the idea of violence in the world. That was an important one for me, to feel like I'd arrived somewhere with the album and my thinking … For me it represents the work of making the whole album and going through these different emotions and getting to end in a bit of an exhaustive way.”
A theme of gratitude also pulses through Shad's words, particularly on the aptly titled “Thank You,” which wraps up the main part of the album before launching into a hard-hitting and thought-provoking epilogue—a rant that came as an afterthought during a week where he couldn't seem to put the pen down. Shad feels it captures the freestyle sensibility he's often drawn to.
“Gratitude is something very close to happiness, if not the same thing, and that was kind of eye-opening for me to realize that,” explains Shad. “Circumstances can feel good or bad depending on your perspective, and gratitude is a really big part of that.”
This sense of gratitude extends to his tight-knit family, for which the track “Fam Jam” serves as an ode to. Shad's family came to London, ON when he was a young child, and the song is a reflection of the challenges that come with relocating to another country and trying to fit in. “Not bad, huh, for some immigrants” is a prominent line throughout and a testament to the achievements Shad's family were able to attain and the new life they were able to build in Canada. But, as with the rap scene, there's room for growth.
“It's starting to feel like we're resting on our laurels as a country, in terms of multiculturalism and these values that we pride ourselves in. It feels like we're not working to advance those ideas, progress them and defend them,” he notes. “I think our generation has always been a little disengaged politically and socially. I don't know exactly what it will take to get that back; it seems like there was a time when people weren't exactly like that and I don't know exactly what happened—I'm part of that, so I'm still trying to figure that out.”