Two years ago, Shad collaborated with avant-garde Inuk singer Tanya Tagaq on a track from her album Retribution. On it, the rapper proved his stylistic versatility on music that didn’t resemble his own, or most other hip-hop, for that matter. Not that Shad had ever fit into much of a mould to begin with; back when he was a business student at Wilfrid Laurier University, he’d often perform with just an acoustic guitar.
In the past three years, Shad has been the host of CBC Radio’s Q, as well as the Emmy-winning HBO documentary series Hip-Hop Nation (it’s on Netflix in Canada, and is well worth your time). He also dropped a smooth R&B album under a pseudonym, Your Boy Tony Braxton.
So for his first proper record in five years, Shad goes for a total reinvention. First single “The Fool Pt 1 (Get It Got It Good)” draws from the early ’90s hip-hop that most influenced his early work, but after that he moves all over the map, from bright pop to dark electronics, with lyrics largely focused on conflict and violence in its many manifestations, and maintaining his rep as one of the richest, most poetic MCs working today. He gets musical assist from Kaytranada, Lido Pimienta, 2oolman of A Tribe Called Red, and B.C. rock band Yukon Blonde, with some lyrical assist from Toronto underground heroes Ian Kamau and Eternia on the municipal lament “Another Year.”
Only the Yukon Blonde track, “All I Need,” sounds like a potential radio hit, but it’s obvious that elsewhere his music is simply going wherever his lyrical fancy takes him. The only other rapper that springs to mind, who shares this level of lyrical density and musical agnosticism, to say nothing of overall talent? Kendrick Lamar. (Oct. 26)
Shad plays two nights at the Great Hall in Toronto Dec. 15-16, on a double bill with the can't-miss Bonjay.
Stream: “The Stone Throwers,” “Peace/War,” “Another Year” feat. Ian Kamau and Eternia