It’s been a long five years without anything new out of Shad’s uniquely gripping brand of rap, but for good reason. Since he last left us with his 2013 release, Flying Colours, Shad’s gone on to host CBC Radio One’s Q, interview a variety of hip hop artists to get to the roots of the genre in the award-winning documentary series Hip-Hop Evolution (a must watch for anyone with an interest in hip hop). He has even introduced fans to his musical alter ego, Your Boy Tony Braxton, on the surprising album Adult Contempt, which seamlessly blends R&B with pop and rock elements.
Needless to say, Shad’s constantly willing to explore new grounds when it comes to his career. That’s why even the sixth release he cooked up in the midst of this, a concept album entitled A Short Story About War, brings something new to the table even as far as Shad’s prior releases go.
This album is pure storytelling – Shad doesn’t shy away from exploring even the darkest depths of a fictional war he’s created, with lyricism that paints full pictures of it. The landscape Shad creates mirrors the worst parts of our own world, allowing him to touch on themes like poverty and racism through a plethora of characters – The Sniper, The Stone Throwers, and The Fool to name a few, the latter of which is revisited on three songs unique to him – with raw, powerful emotion. “The underlying story is what came to me first. I think of this album really as just a way of trying to make that story come alive musically,” Shad told me about the inception of A Short Story About War during a recent interview. “There was no process to creating the underlying story, actually, it was just a kind of image that came into my mind one day. But it’s stuck with me over the last five years or so and I’ve been kind of pondering all of its meanings ever since.”
Shad also states another concept album isn’t in the cards unless the same type of inspiration strikes him, a clear testament to the importance and passion that went into A Short Story About War. “It’s become a way that I think about the world and how I participate in it, so I think of this album as quite a unique project for me,” he went on to say.
Musically, A Short Story About War offers Shad’s politically-charged rap over cuts of instrumentals that experiment with the boundaries of modern hip hop, with instrumentals calling to mind jazz and R&B on top of traditional hip hop. While Shad’s not afraid to take liberties and have fun with it, the hip hop roots are ever-present.
“The importance of the music to me is that it’s where I first found a voice and the opportunity to tell my stories,” Shad said of the genre. His influences within hip hop, he tells me, are Common, Outkast and Lauryn Hill among others, specifically citing them as “the artists that touched me in those formative high school years.”
His appreciation for hip hop as a genre is well founded. “I think my initial interest in hip hop came from a couple things: just seeing people who looked like me having fun and expressing themselves in music and the fact that rapping didn’t cost any money or require any formal training!” he said, “I never took any music lessons so when I was younger and wanted to express myself, I was fortunate that rap didn’t require anything beyond a voice and rhythm and my words.”
As perfect as the pairing of Shad’s flow and a Kaytranada beat may be, his voice and his words are really all Shad’s ever needed. On A Short Story About War, his earnest lyricism bleeds honesty as he breaks down conflict and injustice, further cementing his reputation for being one of Canada’s most thought-provoking artists.