Review Summary: "Maybe I'm not big because I don't blog or Twitter...dog, I'm bitter."
Canadian rapper Shad isn’t exactly a household name in the world of hip-hop yet – but that’s fine by him.
He has been steadily making a name for himself in the underground rap community, on the cusp between mainstream success and playing in high school auditoriums. With the release of his 2005 debut record When Is This Over
, Shad’s original style of blending sarcastic humour with intelligent lyricism garnered him thousands of fans across the continent. He continued to grow in popularity after 2007’s The Old Prince
even going so far as to spoof The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
in one of his music videos. It wasn’t until the release of TSOL
in 2010 that Shad truly arrived in the hip-hop scene, marking the first time he’d made music since 2007. Fan reception was largely positive, and he was thrust into the limelight after being nominated for Rap Artist of the Year in the Juno Awards. Shad wasn’t expected to win, especially since he was going up against multiplatinum star Drake, but he was humble and thankful for the recognition. It came as a shock to everybody watching when Shad was chosen as the winner, including himself. People began to take notice of his ability to pull out a win utilizing underground resources, instead of the state-of-the-art facilities that Drake has access to.
What do we have in TSOL itself? It’s a highly-addictive set of tracks, highlighted by Shad’s charismatic delivery and undeniably catchy instrumentals. His smooth delivery accents the poetic lyrics perfectly, and at times it’s truly dazzling how he is able to captivate the listeners. It’s clear that Shad prides himself on being able to rap without swearing, and it’s that fact that makes this such an intriguing listen. Some of his lines and beats wouldn’t be out of place on early Nas material. The standout track on the album is “Yaa I Get It”, a three-minute and fifty-two second admittance of his lack of star quality. At the same time, however, he carries himself with swagger and a sense of self-confidence that shines through in his lyrics. Some of his best lines include “I didn’t have it on the flop, but I’ll win it on the river. Long as winter’s got me seasoned, I’m a non-beginner,” and “I make your head steam like a pet peeve, getcha neck squeezed till the breath leaves, got the finesse and the prestige.” The classic beat is perhaps the best on the album, an intoxicating mix of orchestral strings and bass. It’s best experienced while watching the black-and-white music video, showing Shad parading around his hometown of London, Ontario grinning like the Cheshire Cat all the while.
There are flaws, however, that weren't really showing through in his earlier material. Some of the beats are simply too ambitious for a rapper of Shad’s style. He is generally at his best when the beat serves as a backdrop to his lyrics as opposed to dominating the mix and forcing him to play up. An example of this is on the track We, Myself and I
, where a beat supplied by Broken Social Scene
is just too busy and doesn’t allow Shad to access his true lyrical potential. Also, some of the choruses are a little lacking in feel and a fair amount of the overall charm found on his earlier releases has been sacrificed for more complex instrumentals. That being said, the verses are still stellar and Shad’s flow can only be described as effortless at times. Despite the few nagging missteps, this is one of the best hip-hop albums of 2010. Shad’s charisma is undeniable, and the overall feel of the lyrics mixed with the impressive instrumentals is nothing short of excellent. With the well-deserved win at the Juno Awards, he should start to creep into the mainstream scene a little more. Whether that’s a good thing or not is an entirely different question.