Shad keeps Stylin’

Canadian emcee still on point with fourth record Flying Colours

Consistency and honesty are difficult to maintain in a fickle hip hop industry. More often than not (or than we’d like to think) artists fall out of favour, disappear after a one-and-done, or simply struggle to stay relevant amidst changing tastes and attitudes.

For the Kenyan born Shad, 31, staying true to a core message has afforded him some unique and noteworthy staying power.

“We live in a small country and if you rap it’s even smaller, so at some point everyone crosses paths with one another,” he says. The proof is in the product, as Shad has collaborated with such Canadian acts as Hey Ocean!, Said the Whale and Dallas Green, in addition to a host of other rap stars domestic and international. 

Rapping since he was a teenager, Shadrach Kabango recorded his first album When This Is Over with money from a radio contest while studying as an undergrad at Wilfred Laurier University. Its success launched Shad into minor fame and much exposure in Canadian hip hop circles. Followed by 2007’s The Old Prince and 2010’s Juno-winning TSOL, Shad’s brand of introspective rhymes, blended with smooth cuts and break beats, are as strong as ever on the freshly released Flying Colours

The LP is Shad’s most ambitious work to date, as it retains much of the same style – self-deprecating, reflexive lyrics and upbeat samples – but expands a personnel of guest appearances to include electropop singer Lights and Toronto-based emcee Saukrates on the single “Stylin’”. 

“There are definitely things on this album I’ve never done before” he says. “But when I set out to make [Flying Colours], what I was trying to get at was a common experience. That is, success and failure and the fact that we all become acquainted with both, and we all have to figure out how to carry them forward in our story in a way that’s honest.”

The record’s third track and second single, “Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins)”, reflects on those themes and the journey of immigration his own family once undertook (he was only a year old when the Kabango family made the move to Canada).

“[‘Fam Jam’] was inspired by a lyric I heard that we use on the chorus, and I thought it would be fun to shift into another context and talk about an experience a lot of people know in Canada” he says. “What was I trying to do with that song? A lot. I wanted ultimately to be joyful and celebratory, but also speak to some of the more challenging points of the immigrant experience and the Canadian experience.”

Indeed, Shad’s effort to tell a story, to share common experiences, is what resonates most – a type of honesty that’s respected in an industry without much of it.

Published in Volume 68, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 20, 2013)

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