London, Ontario’s Shad is back with his fourth studio album Flying Colours. Mixing a dark, introspective ambiance with elevated subject matter and lyrical dexterity as good as anyone currently rapping, Flying Colours is hip-hop at its highest potential: honest, humble, and smart.
Canada and Hip-Hop are generally incongruous. Sure, we have Drake, but (all value judgements aside) is Drake’s music really Canadian? While that question complicates more than it answers, I think it’s safe to say Drake has become a shining example of the American Dream–a small-town boy who climbs to the top of the world; however, in Drake’s case, that “small-town” is Canada, appended like a tiny footnote.
Flying Colours is a Canadian album, distinctly and proudly so, but it manages to do so without straying into cliche. Perhaps it’s Shad’s humility that makes his music Canadian; perhaps his Canadian identity makes his music humble, but Flying Colours avoids “cash-rap” as much as igloos. Shad is smart and his music is pedagogical rather than hubristic.
That being said, Shad has swagger. “Stylin'” featuring Saukrates, one of the stand out tracks, mixes an infectious modern-rap beat with old-school funk to rope listeners into head-bopping bliss. The track oozes with wit–you can almost hear Shad smiling behind the microphone when he says,
“Yeah I’m running like a Kenyan see I’m running like Obama
On that ticket, this is wicked as that Broadway play with the witches in it
Tell me who’s the sickest, kid I’m putting on a clinic”
RapGenius followers have done an excellent job breaking down the intricacies of the track (the sections in yellow have click-able annotations).
In auditory ambiance, Flying Colours is the potential love child of Jay-Z and Kanye West (let’s ignore Watch the Throne because it wasn’t that good anyway). The album combines the dark introspection of The Black Album, with the bravado of Graduation.
“Fam Jam” (Fe Sum Immigrants) has the upbeat strut of “Izzo,” but the subject matter creates a smart track, a Canadian track–a Shad track. It’s a celebratory mosaic of Shad’s diverse background, and without visiting the lean-tos of the barren north, it maintains the air of a Canadian city. “Fam Jam” is a prime example of how an artist can define him- (or her-) self without plastering the maple leaf on his/her album cover.
Moreover, Flying Colours manipulates Kanye-esque samples that flesh out the album’s sound and give the tracks some teeth. In fact, Shad samples Jay-Z on his track “Thank You” and references lines from both rappers throughout the album. The samples provide both the emotional weight of a pot-stirring track and the catchy memorability necessary for a mainstream hit. The samples and hooks set the barbs, pulling us back for multiple listens. Check out “Remember to Remember” for an example of these objectives conflated.
It’s important to come back to Flying Colours because Shad’s intellectual lyricism demands multiple listens. He offers biting social criticisms, insightful discussions of racial politics, and his own brand of heartbreaking introspection (i.e. “Progress”) I referred to his album as a “potential love child” because it is Shad’s lyrical dexterity, depth, and wit that markedly distinguish him from his influences.
That being said, he is still a child in many ways and Flying Colours is by no means perfect. The album is personable–because Shad has concepts he wants digested–but his anecdotal style is sometimes off-putting; “when you’re Kirk, girls wanna Klingon” is a particularly cringe-worthy line for me. Flying Colours is generally cohesive in sound, subject matter, and delivery, but that can fall apart when Shad strays towards the easy or obvious messages. “Epilogue”, the six-minute closing track, encourages individuality and self-confidence, good messages to be sure, but without the usual punch that Flying Colours has delivered the song falls flat. Still, Shad’s latest offering is sure to draw more praise from Hip-Hop fans and critics alike. Flying Colours is intelligent, honest and thought-provoking.
If you’re interested in seeing Shad live, his upcoming tour dates can be found here.
- Album Review: Shad – “Flying Colours” (aestheticmagazinetoronto.com)
- Shad K – Interview and Full Album Stream (mikedroth.wordpress.com)
- Artist Profile + Album Review: Shad – Flying Colours (syphersights.wordpress.com)