Facebook R&B crooner Mario has been relatively quiet on the music front for…
- Posted on May 28th 2010 11:30AM by Vish Khanna
With a discerning, critical eye and disarming sense of humour, Shad is a truly balanced artist, carrying himself with an endearing swagger that's free of pretense. But with so much acclaim heaped upon 2007's 'The Old Prince' -- from Polaris Prize and Juno Award nominations at home to props from the Roots-affiliated OkayPlayer.com and Kanye West himself, who blogged about 'Compromise'), Shad would be forgiven for losing his level head while recording his hotly anticipated new album 'TSOL.'
As it turns out, the African-born, Canadian-raised rapper -- who collaborated with Broken Social Scene and found inspiration in Billy Bragg -- simply chilled out, trying to make the record as joyful as possible.
"The motivation was to do something a little bit more upbeat," Shad tells Spinner. "I've had fun on tunes here and there, but I wanted to do something that was more positive as a whole."
But Shad's sunny outlook has always been tempered by gravitas, which stems from a family history where optimism wasn't to be taken for granted. Born in central Africa, where his parents fled the Rwandan genocide for Canada, Shad's vibe is uniquely heavy and light. Over his recorded output, he's taken on socio-political topics about race, class, and gender from an astutely thoughtful perspective. Yet his sense of humour, religious faith, and moral character (Shad never, ever curses) enables him to delve into those same issues and frivolous pop culture with an engaging warmth and sly mischief. To top it off, he's got a deep flow and a sharp mind, which makes him one of the most compelling MCs of his generation.
With 'TSOL,' he continues to progress, shifting into a higher gear in his choice of collaborators (including members of Broken Social Scene, Classified, and DJ TLO) and as a songwriter. Though renowned for his witty lyrics and fun ideas, (such as paying homage to 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's iconic title sequence with a shot-for-shot music video remake), Shad does get serious. That said, he's slightly taken aback at the suggestion that 'TSOL' might be his most pointed album to date.
"There's some depth to it and less outright joke-y songs, you're right," he says after some pondering. "There's humour in every song almost but yeah, there isn't a song that's a joke front to back. It's just littered with humour throughout. I did want it to have a lot of depth and in that sense it's serious. But musically, and throughout each song, there are jokes in it, even if there isn't a 'The Old Prince Still Lives at Home' or anything like that."
At its core, 'TSOL' is Shad at his most thoughtful and heartfelt. Even the title -- which he was initially hesitant to define publicly -- is meant to convey a visceral conflict, where one doesn't know whether to laugh or cry, that stems from an emotional reserve he's really tapping into.
"I don't mean to be too cryptic about it. It just stands for a few different things and I wanted to leave it as an acronym. One I can give you some unique insight into: the Billy Bragg song 'Levi Stubbs' Tears' has become one of my favourites and a huge motivation on me making this record. It's become one of my favourite songs. It's about music, experiences, and emotions that are too profound to express any other way. So, I was gonna name a song 'Tears of Stubbs Levi' and almost named the song 'At the Same Time' 'Levi Stubbs' Tears' but didn't wanna step on toes. But even other acronyms -- 'The Struggle of Love' or 'The Secret of Life' -- it all came from that Billy Bragg song and the depth of emotion involved."
'TSOL' will undoubtedly get fans and critics salivating again but is its raw conflation of joy and pain enough for Shad to actually become a 'rap sensation' -- a title he deflects on the single 'Yaa I Get It' -- and take over the world in 2010?
"That leaves me seven months. Yeah, that's ample time," he laughs. "I can do that."