Kenyan-born Ontario native Shad is bringing his innovative flows, infectious melodies and impeccable storytelling to the Studio at Webster Hall on December 4 for a night of some of the finest hip-hop our neighbors to the north have to offer. While many stateside have perhaps heard of Shad as the MC who, in 2011, beat out his countryman Drake for the Juno Award (Canada’s Grammys) for Best Rap Album, Shad’s carved out a following all his own. His 2010 album TSOL boasted singles like the affably catchy “Rose Garden” and the witty, introspective “Yaaa, I Get It,” showing Shad’s tremendous range of subject matter. This diverse arsenal of styles continued last year with the lighthearted fun of his Skratch Bastid-assisted EP The Spring Up and the more serious social exploration of his album Flying Colors.
Shad’s show Thursday also celebrates the release of his new EP, Boarding Pass. A collaboration with his longtime tourmate DJ T.Lo, Boarding Pass continues Shad’s lyrical inventiveness while maintaining why we dig his music to begin with. One recurring motif, which is in the title itself, is the theme of traveling. It’s interesting to note that, despite that thread’s repeated presence on his records, Shad considers himself more of a homebody. He tells us, “I don’t like talking about travel myself because, to me, it’s classic ‘rapper has nothing to talk about besides day-to-day travel,’ but it is a feature of my life — and a weird feature of my life. I don’t think anybody feels normal about being on so many planes. We’ve grown accustomed to the internet, but when the plane lands, that’s weird.”
With Boarding Pass being Shad’s second one-producer EP in two years, he tells us he’s fond of the format both for the sampling freedom as well as the quick turnaround. The latter happens to particularly stand out on Boarding Pass‘s “Hold On,” whose reference to Mike Brown has made the song even more timely. The lyrics include the correlation “Rest in peace, MuchMusic/Rest in peace, Mike Brown,” an interesting juxtaposition which Shad tells us he’s still figuring out himself.
“That’s an intersection I’m really interested in. Artists are people that make culture who were influenced by culture and shape culture. We speak into it, but at the same time we’re formed by it. I’m poking at it and trying to figure it out. What’s our voice in Ferguson? Are we doing our job? I talk about comedy, and political music is too heavy right now. We need jokes, we need levity. Maybe that’s the thing, I don’t know. I’m trying to take all those different sides of it and examine the responsibility of artists as culture makers and [ask] what can we do with it?”
Shad’s real-time engaging with issues in his music has led to fans having different takes on his messages. “The stuff is nuanced sometimes in the sense where I’m trying to figure it out, so there are things that are open to interpretation. I’m not trying to be too didactic, I’m not trying to be too on the nose, ideological. I’m trying to root it in my own experiences and my own feelings. There’s room to be understood or misunderstood. I think people, if they like you or want to like you, they want you to think exactly how they think. That’s where some of that comes from, but also there’s room for it.”
That particular writing approach, really an extension of Shad’s personality, has opened him up to new audiences, some of whom weren’t even fans of the genre. It’s a phenomenon he dealt with, as only he could, on 2013’s “Stylin’ “:
See, I got fans that say, “Oh hey Shad, I hate rap but I like you”/Well I hate that, but I like you/At least I like that you like me so I won’t spite you/It’s not your fault you’re a white dude/Likes white music I like too/Just don’t be surprised by my IQ.
While other rappers have experienced backlash for expressing their thoughts being on the receiving end of the “I hate all rap except” compliment, Shad’s said his fan base has understood and received it, adding that he doesn’t mind being a listener’s gateway to rap. It’s this mixture of accessibility and intelligence that further proves Shad makes music worth traveling for.