Shad gets Philosophical in the Prairies [Interview]
Calgary, AB - Shad’s been on some big things these past couple of years: his stylistic and creative flow has made a big impact on the Canadian hip-hop scene and the Old Prince has recently found himself at the centre of attention, Juno in hand. Shad – aka Shadrach Kabango – has a different angle on things, and he comes across as thoughtful and strongly grounded in his ideals. HipHopCanada.com’s Sarosh Rizvi caught up with London, Ontario MC in the middle of his tour through the prairie region to get his thoughts on defining success, the element of fear in making music and his own creative evolution.
“You just have to have faith in those feelings and in those ideas because they are there for a reason. If you love making music, you love it for a reason.”
HHC: Congrats on the Juno win, how have things changed for you since?
SK: Thank you. You know, nothing’s really changed so far we just keep working. It’s been cool, it was definitely a fun weekend.
HHC: Is that something you always wanted? Is that one of the ways you defined success?
SK: Ah, no. I think that success is when you’ve done something good, when you’ve done something worthwhile and meaningful with music. So yeah, that’s not how I define success. You know, I try to work hard with every album when I put it to rest, just be able to feel like – yeah, I pushed myself as far as I could with this. I pushed my creativity and my courage as far as I could go and that’s it.
HHC: Has there been a plan from the get go as far as what albums you’re going to put out or is it more what you are feeling at that moment?
SK: Yeah, that’s basically what it is. And with every album that I make, it’s been kinda different. So with the Old Prince – which was the one before this one – it was kinda like this whole concept that sort of what inspired me creatively to make more songs. With this latest album, it was more like reaching a point where I had the opportunity to make another album and just kind of feeling like this is great, and feeling grateful for that and just saying to myself, ‘how can I make the most of this opportunity?’ So, every album is just different in that way. I found so far, the motivations have been different.
HHC: Now that you’re a few albums in and getting recognized – either critically or by mainstream media – how has that relationship changed for new artists coming up and looking to you?
SK: I think – one thing I can say is that some people have approached me and said that is made them feel like they could do it, which is cool. Yeah. Because, as everyone knows, the way the music industry works is in flux and no one knows what they are doing and whatever so I think it’s cool for a new artist to feel like ‘Hey, there are people coming up still, despite the fact that there is no formula for success anymore.’ There is no infrastructure in place as far as labels and stuff. It’s not as much of a thing. So, if there’s any feedback I’ve gotten from new artists, it’s been that. Kind of on a positive note, they say ‘Hey, it’s been cool to see you come up’ and you know, some of the have watched me play shows for ten people and now I’m doing shows for fifteen people and they’re like, ‘Good for you.’ It’s been, you know, it’s cool that they feel like, yeah, that it’s possible.
HHC: So when you talk about the genre being in flux, is that a source of stress for you or is that a sense of freedom?
SK: Yeah, for me, I’ve always just been cool with that, you know. Then again, I started making music in 2005 so everything was shot already when I started. So it’s not like I was in an era where everything was cool and people could make records and sit back and collect cash. It was like, I started making albums when the whole machine was broken so I don’t know any different. And I’ve always been cool with that.
HHC: Do you think your music or you career would have taken a different path if you had come up maybe ten years earlier?
SK: The thing is, you don’t know if you would be rich or if you would not have a career. You know what I mean? So, as far as I’m concerned, I’m very happy with the way things are now so I’m not complaining. Because you really just don’t know. It could be one or the other.
HHC: How about with Canadian hip-hop as a whole? What are you thoughts on the Canadian scene?
SK: I think that right now, it’s really exciting. I say that genuinely. From when I started to now, I’ve noticed a difference in the last couple years in terms of how much fans are just down. Even if the mainstream media is not all on Canadian hip-hop, which they’re a lot more on it than they were. But just the fan support which is just so dope. Like if you watch Classified’s success, or Drake’s success, or if you look at the King of Tha Dot and kinda that whole scene and the support that that gets. I think that, like when you have support on the ground for Canadian hip-hop, like we’ve seen in the last few years, I think that that is special. It’s an exciting time. I think it’s going to keep on the up and up too. I think artists are just getting better and better, the general calibre of the music is just getting better. And, like I said, the number one thing is the fan support… that’s on the up.
HHC: Are you noticing that with your American audience?
SK: A little bit. I mean, it’s hard to tell because I’m not on the ground as much. I’ve done a couple of opening tours and it’s been cool to see and there are some people who are familiar with the music. But yeah, I mean to this point in my career I’ve mostly made music for a Canadian audience, and presented it to a Canadian audience. So, as far as the reception of Canadian hip-hop down there for me, it’s still pretty small. For other artists, we’ve got Drake poppin’ off and I’m sure K’naan is doing well. I toured down there with K-Os and he has some real enthusiastic fans so it’s definitely there. And there’s people really interested in what’s going on with Canadian hip-hop because it’s different.
HHC: So do you think that at this point, is regionalism in hip-hop still relevant?
SK: Less so. I think it’s less so, right? Because I don’t know how old you are but when I was younger it was New York, L.A., and if you were from anywhere else, it’s like you’re a weirdo. Now, Wiz Khalifa’s from Pittsburgh and so and so’s from Atlanta and Houston and all these places so regionalism, I think, is less of a thing. And that only sort of makes sense, because hip-hop sort of spread to everywhere, right? I mean it’s in London, Ontario. It’s in everywhere so it only makes sense that eventually, as far as artists coming out of all these places that that would catch up. So I think that makes sense and I think it’s good to see that.
HHC: How do you see yourself getting labelled? The Canadian rapper? The backpacker?
SK: As far as I’m concerned, I’ve never been worried about that because if you get worried about that I feel like you’re just gonna get stressed to death. You can’t control how people label your music, they’re just going to label it the way they want to so I don’t really worry too much about that. It’s all good, like that is part of making music is to put it out there and people find ways to define it and whatever. As long as you can keep your mind saying what you want to say and how you want to say it, I think you’re good.
HHC: You seem like someone who generally wears your influences on your sleeve. Anyone new you’re looking out for? Anyone you wish to collaborate with?
SK: That I’m listening to these days? You know Oddisee? I think he’s like, as far as hip-hop shit, I’m beginning to get into, I mean he’s up there for me. But yeah, I’ve always listened to a range of music so I don’t know if I’d really collaborate with a lot of the people. Sometimes I’m just a fan and it doesn’t make sense for us to make music together but yeah, I’ve always listened to a range of music.
HHC: You’re not someone who collaborates much…
SK: Yeah, especially not that much on my own stuff just cuz when I write a song, it might a really kinda specific idea. I don’t know, it would feel weird for me to approach someone and say ‘Can you fit into this song?’ when it’s like, they don’t necessarily fit. I would have to come to it from a point of, ‘Hey, lets work together on something that works for both of us.’ And I’ve never really been in that much of a position to do that so yeah, there are a lot of people I’d like to sit in the studio with, but given my process it hasn’t really worked out.
HHC: So tell me about TSOL. It’s been out for a while, gotten great reviews. Tell me about the sound on the album, was it as conceptual as ‘The Old Prince’?
SK: In every way it wasn’t as conceptual. In every way that album was more a situation where I felt like ‘Cool. I get to make music now!’ and I’m just stoked on that so let me try to do that to the best of my abilities. So it was really just songs that came out of that. Like, really trying to write my best material, and make songs that were fun and interesting and thoughtful and worth listening to. So no concept really in that. Whereas ‘The Old Prince’ was really kinda more of a conceptual idea than that, and sonically, it’s just more cohesive.
HHC: You writing’s always been personal, pretty much from your first album forward. Was it hard, especially when you were starting out, not to fall under the pressures of what was ‘successful’ at the time?
SK: Well, the thing is, making hip-hop in Canada at that point, 2004-2005, I didn’t really think success was a realistic thing anyways. Plus, the only thing that really ever interested me in music was doing something that I felt was different and a little bit unique to me. So, for all those reasons, I never really felt a ton of pressure to do anything else because doing other things that weren’t me, it just didn’t interest me. I’d rather push papers or something in an office. So, yeah. I never really felt that much pressure in that respect. It’s always kinda been, what got me excited about music was when I would write a lyric or something that I felt like only I would say that, or that’s something unique for me to offer people.
HHC: Because I mean, for you playing guitar on tracks to even the new album has spoken word pieces on it, those aren’t necessarily a recipe for commercial success.
SK: Yeah. Yeah, but I’ve also always been a believer that if you like it then somebody else probably likes it. As opposed to if you’re making music that not even you like, what’s your sort of intuition or reason for thinking someone else is gonna like it? You know, I think you gotta try and do something different, something interesting because its music and it’s supposed to be fun.
HHC: Just in regards to originality, in regards to creativity, what do you think are the obstacles to that? What are the roadblocks for that?
SK: Yeah, I think a lot of it comes down to… Yeah, ultimately it’s like, I don’t know, I guess it’s just fear really. I think you gotta just embrace the things you love about music and the reasons why you do it. Which is usually just because it’s fun and usually just because you have things to say. You have a humanity and an individuality that you want to show, so I think if you pursue that and you remember that’s actually why you are making music and why you like it, then I think you’ll be cool.
HHC: So when you say fear, fear of what?
SK: I think there’s fear of everything. There’s fear that if you do your own thing that you’ll be a weirdo. There’s fear that you’re not weird and original enough. There’s fear that you suck. There’s fear that you are making music for the wrong reasons. You know? You gotta just deal with that. It’s probably all true to some extent, you just have to get over it. But I think the biggest thing is remembering why you’re doing it, and remembering that it’s fun. And keep having fun making music and performing, you’re just gonna get better and better.
HHC: From your own point of view over, and it’s been just six years in for you, how have you changed along those lines?
SK: I think it’s been a huge learning thing for me because, maybe for the first time in my life, it’s like, ‘Ok. I have this passion, this drive to do this thing that doesn’t necessarily make sense. It’s not conventional, it’s not obviously practical…’ You know? Making music – but then to pursue it, and to see something come of it was really kind of an eye opening and a real huge learning experience. You just have to have faith in those feelings and in those ideas because they are there for a reason. If you love making music, you love it for a reason. It’s not just there so you can not do it and be miserable. You know? So, I think that I’ve grown a lot in that respect – in terms of just generally believing in my own ideas, and in my common sense and my intuition about certain things. So music’s been a huge help for me in that respect.
HHC: Back in the day, when you were coming up and your name was getting out there, you made a decision to stay in school. How do you think that affected you? Did that give the option, ‘even if I do fail, I have something to fall back on?’
SK: Yeah, that’s a good point because I think that was there for me. Because for some people, they need the opposite. For some people, they need to feel that there is no option besides this working out, so having a fall back plan is actually bad for them. But for me, it put me in a position where I felt like I can not just pursue music, but pursue music in a way that makes sense to me and is you know, maybe not, like you said, the most commercially successful approach. But it’s all good, because if I need to make money, there’s something else I could do to do that. So yeah, that was comfortable for me, it just put me in a comfortable position I feel like to just be creative. And also, I just liked it. I just liked what I was studying so I wanted to do both because I enjoyed it.
HHC: What were you studying?
SK: It was a liberal studies program. So philosophy, literature…it was stuff that I just liked. Especially when I wasn’t on tour that much, it was nice to kind of get away and get my mind on something completely different than music all the time and just getting into these texts and these authors and some of their ideas, it was just healthy for me.
HHC: Has that influenced you in your writing now?
SK: I think so. I think whenever you absorb inspiring ideas or whenever you take in good work, creative work, it’s gonna be good for you.
Interview conducted by Sarosh Rizvi for HipHopCanada