Review Summary: A Canadian MC delivers one of the best rap albums of the 2000s. A classic that belongs in every library.
I can never figure out how I want to start my reviews. It’s not writer’s block, it’s more of a fear. I find it so difficult to put my thoughts and opinions into the public domain. Just by writing these reviews I give people insight into what I feel and the things I relate to. So, it’s hard for me to understand how artists can be so comfortable with displaying themselves to possibly millions of people and this is part of the reason I have such respect for most musicians.
As far as hip-hop goes, introspection is at a premium. As the focus of hip-hop consumers has turned towards the brand aspect of the rappers (t-shirts, hats etc.) and away from art performers in the vein of Tribe and Common have been totally overlooked. The rap industry, once full of rebellion, wit and passion, has basically devolved into the repetition of three basic themes: guns, hoes and drugs.
Before I start sounding like every suburban, WASP parent allow me to add that there are socially conscious (and humorous) artists out there. Kanye has delivered many excellent songs on the topics of religion, self-consciousness, materialism and the like and Lupe Fiasco is a master storyteller when he steps up to the mic but the majority seem to avoid this. It’s commonly held that all art contains a piece of the artist but I guess I have a hard time believing most rappers only care about gangster paraphernalia.
Enter Shadrach Kabango (known professionally as “Shad”), a man who uses his music as a kind of diary. I have his bio right here meaning I can literally list facts and pretty much finish the "artist" part of this review in 30 seconds and move onto the "art" section. However, with Shad, this would be a mistake. The "artist" and the "art" are very much connected on "When This is Over". For example, I can tell you in an instant where he went to university (Wilfrid Laurier University, he graduated with a business degree) but you have to listen to New School Leaders
before you realize how even in the classroom his mind was feverishly composing. I can also tell you his mother’s story (Bernadette Kabango, a poet and survivor of the Rwandan genocide) but you have to experience his mother/son duet on I'll Never Understand
before you can see how Bernadette's eventual acceptance of her past confused and annoyed Shad.
On the opening track New School Leaders
he confides his insecurities about his rapping ability, writer’s block and fears about the real world. This song also takes the unique form of a two-person discussion with Shad playing a depressed, frustrated rapper and a confident, and successful MC.
Shad’s humor seems almost effortless and is weaved into every song. Usually this is obvious but sometimes it takes multiple listens for the puns to slowly emerge. For example, on I Get Down
he talks about why he avoids the traditional subjects of today’s rap:
Never had to spray slugs
So I don’t play thug
And try to fit with the killers
Like OJ’s glove.
Later on he boasts “I’m the biggest thing out of Canada since Pamela’s double Ds”
showing that confidence and self-promotion are still a staple of the hip-hop game. But this display of braggadocio becomes strange when compared to the introspective musings of the next track, Out of Love
Out of Love
is a meditation on the over sexualized image many young women display. Shad begins the song by discussing how he views these girls (“Why’s that silly pseudo-pimp pressed against your pink dress"”) but he never really believes that they are stupid enough to think any of these guys have interest beyond a one-night stand:
Oh miss, I try boo but I’m a guy too
And so I’m qualified to say
That what a lot of guys display
Are just some hollow lies devised to get play
But I won’t apologize ‘cause most of ya’ll ain’t slow chicks
With no wits, so when a pro approaches you should know this
It’s easy decoding the motives of these horny guys
You’re roses but the thorns you expose keep me torn inside
Beyond biting wit there is also depth in Shad’s debut. The closing track, A Story No One Told
, is the heartbreaking tale of an old man being awakened by his memories of childhood only to see death at his bedside. He pleads to be allowed to write everything contained in his long life. Using a piece of chalk he writes upon the streets of the town. The next morning everyone is stunned by the life painted over the town, the beautiful story of an ordinary man growing old.
I sincerely hope you at least search some of the tracks on YouTube, it will be well worth your time.
- Ridiculous flow
- Intelligent and introspective lyrics
- Humour In almost every song
- Some songs (Wild
, Real Game
) lose their luster after a few listens