Review Summary: A confident, refreshingly honest hip-hop album by an artist who knows exactly how to utilize their strengths.
In a CBC track-by-track commentary promoting Shad’s new album “Flying Colours”, interviewer George Stroumboulopoulos insisted to Shad that he is no longer the underdog, and questioned how this alteration of hierarchy within the hip-hop canon affected his approach when recording the new album. Shad responded that he approached the record trying to be ambitious, but yet incorporated a degree of “thoughtfulness”-or in other words, practiced a conscious respect for the audience that attempts not to waste their time.
Has Shad reached the point in his career where he is no longer considered an underdog in the rap game? Certainly, at 31 years old and with a prized Canadian Juno award under his belt (with a win over Drake no less), a case can be made that he has in fact reached a degree of mainstream success, particularly in Canada. Yet, his success in the States has been far from chart-topping. He is still undeniably regarded as a rapper of underground-level status that has yet to truly breakthrough into the mainstream radio-rap sphere. The recent mass success of socially conscious rappers (particularly Macklemore) suggest that Shad may have an opportunity with this new release to earn a greater level of recognition within the realm of mainstream hip-hop.
Also interesting is Shad’s notion of “thoughtfulness.” Rarely does “Flying Colours” venture into anything experimental, but Shad is certainly tackling tracks with greater thematic weight than what we’ve seen from his past records. The standout track “Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins)” is a conversational, personal account of his experience with racism and immigration. His flow and amiable-yet-rebellious persona recall a young “College Dropout” era Kanye West. It might be Shad’s most accomplished track to date, and is easily the most memorable moment on the album.
Shad’s style is refreshingly honest and seems entirely reflective of Shad’s persona. There is little in the way of bravado, and when it rears its head on “Stylin,” its more playful and whimsical than characteristic of some perverse desire to be king of the rap game. Shad has always relied on the strength of his stream of consciousness lyricism, but they are put to greater use with the record’s emphasis on conceptual narratives. Many of the tracks are grounded by a unifying concept, including the previously mentioned immigration as well as fame (“Dreams”) and women (“He Say, She Say”). The emphasis on songs structured around a single theme prove to be a welcome evolution for Shad, yet can sometimes feel a bit forced and risk to sacrifice the playful aesthetic which Shad consistently thrives on.
Shad's desire to remain ambitious deserves a certain degree of respect, and suggests that breaking into the mainstream isn't of primary concern. On the final track of the album titled “Epilogue,” Shad raps, “They’re waiting on that hit like Phil Collins with a drumset.” One gets the feeling that if Shad wanted too, he already could have created a smash-hit. But an album of pop-hits would risk not only alienating his passionate fanbase, but even more importantly, would see Shad not being true to himself as an artist. It seems that sacrificing artistic integrity for the sake of recognition is not something Shad is even remotely concerned with, and “Flying Colours,” while sometimes not as immediately resonant as prior releases, is a carefully crafted, passionate effort that is exactly what its creator intended it should be. Fans of Shad’s prior work, and hip-hop in general, will find a lot to like here.