Fam Jam time with Shad in Calgary [Interview]
Calgary, AB – On Nov. 27, our friends over at The Union brought Canadian rapping heavy-hitter, Shad, to Calgary to headline a sold-out show at Republik Nightclub. Shad has been on his grind, lately. He dropped a sweet collaborative EP (The Spring Up) with Toronto’s Skratch Bastid, performed a few opening sets along Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ summer tour, and put the icing on the cake in October when he released his fourth album, Flying Colours.
Only shows away from the last concert of his solo tour, Shad sat down with HipHopCanada‘s Calgary team to chop it up about testing the waters of new musical influences, the lack of sexy songs on Flying Colours, “Bound 2” parody videos, and more. See how it all went down after the jump.
“Everybody likes games of some kind. And for me, writing raps is a kind of game that I like – just putting words together and figuring them out.” – Shad
Upon our arrival at Republik Nightclub, Shad’s crew was in the process of setting up for the sound check. His touring DJ was spinning a mashup of everything from Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” to Biggie’s “Playa Hater.” And then he went ham on some smooth R&B. And Shad was feeling it. Actually, everyone was feeling it. Let’s be honest here – there’s massive appeal in blasting suave soulful vibes at really high decibels. After Shad warmed up on stage, he ventured to the upper level of Republik to kick it with our Calgary team. HipHopCanada’s own Sarosh Rizvi has already had a couple of encounters with Shad (you may remember the interview they did back in 2011), so it was a bit of a reunion for the two of them.
One of the lesser-known perks of being a headlining MC is the free backstage grub. And by backstage grub, I mean copious amounts of chips, beverages, and bottled water. There’s also usually a vegetable platter that goes untouched. But Shad is the type of dude who actually eats the vegetables. Because he’s just that kind of guy. He’s never been one to stay in the margins – whether it’s the typical norms of backstage noshing, or the type of music that he delivers. Shad’s music hops around from genre-to-genre. It dabbles in hip-hop, rock, pop, country, and everything else in between. That’s why Flying Colours has been so hyped. It doesn’t try to be something else. It is genuine. And it is so distinctly Shad.
Shad Kabango: Q&A
Interview conducted by Sarah Sussman and Sarosh Rizvi for HipHopCanada
Sarah Sussman: Welcome to Calgary. Let’s get things started. Last time you [and Sarosh] talked, you weren’t so big on collaborations. Now you’re kickin’ it with Skratch [Bastid] and your whole album was basically collaborated.
Shad: My albums always [have] a lot of collaborators—a lot of contributors. I don’t know if we talked about this [last time I was here], but my ideas can be so specific and tailored to me that there’s not room for another voice within that exact idea [or] within that exact frame. Even if I have a track that’s going in, it’s going in in a very Shad-specific way.
Sarosh Rizvi: You’re always – not picky, but – in your zone with it. [Last time] you said that you’d never really been in the position to do [a lot of collaborating] before. So is that different now?
Shad: With every album I feel like my network grows [and] I just get to meet more people. But I’ve also always been the guy that if there’s an artist I like, I just like them. My impulse isn’t to get them in the studio working on a track. My impulse is just to be like, “Listen to their music.” It’s just what excites people about music: it’s different things for different people. That being said, I’ve had so many great experiences of working with people – having somebody else in the studio and just seeing them be great at what they do. It’s really amazing.
Sarah Sussman: You and Skratch released your own version of “Bound 2,” a while back. And this parody video just came out, and it’s blowing up the Internet. I know you two probably won’t be doing a parody.
Shad: I had to repost that just to make sure people knew that wasn’t in the pipeline.
Sarah Sussman: So hypothetical question—if you guys were to make a parody video, who would play Kim and who would play Kanye?
Shad: The sad truth is that I’m more of a Seth Rogan build and [I have the] hairy back. This is really sad, for a number of reasons.
Sarah Sussman: At least you’ll admit that.
Shad: I gotta come clean and just be honest about that.
Sarosh Rizvi: Not to get too heavy at all, but you did a TEDx talk a little while ago. You were talking about your own evolution in music. You were talking about music and you said it’s what you do and why you do it. But you didn’t elaborate into why you do it.
Shad: For one, it’s a pure joy. It’s just fun. Everybody likes games of some kind. And for me, writing raps is a kind of game that I like – just putting words together and figuring them out. And figuring out what I’m thinking and what I’m feeling, and creative ways of expressing that and fun ways of expressing that. There’s times where I just crave a pen. I just do. That’s one of the impulses that I feel, from time-to-time: to put words to paper. On the most fundamental level, there’s those things that I love about music. I’m just a huge fan of [music]. It speaks to me. It always has. It’s moved me. And spoken to me. I guess at this point, it’s just an extraordinary opportunity. I get to put as much time and energy as I get to into this. All those things factor into it. I talked about the fun –the joy of it – but there’s also the serious side. I have serious tracks and music is a cool opportunity to explore some of those ideas and experiences that are a bit more serious [and] a bit more heavy, and find a way to approach them. Not just for me, but [for] other people, too.
Sarah Sussman: One of the heavier tracks off your album was “He Say She Say.” I was wondering what the backstory behind that was.
Shad: That’s an interesting one because of all the songs on the album, it has the most storytelling-like narrative. But it’s not exactly autobiographical. But [the lyrics] speak to real experiences and emotions. That narrative is not exactly plucked from my real life.
Sarah Sussman: So are you actually a big Star Trek fan?
Shad: Not a huge Star Trek fan. I’m more of a Star Wars [fan].
Sarosh Rizvi: So is that story plucked from other people? Or is it just creative license?
Shad: It’s plucked from a mix of things. There’s things in there that I resonate with that speaks to aspects of my personality and my experience. And there’s other parts that reflect other people’s experiences that I’ve seen [from those who] are close to me. [The track] wrote itself very easily, to be honest with you. There’s something about that. When it writes itself very easily and resonates a lot with me, I’m like, “Cool.” But it is weird because [of] the context. My artist name is Shad. And everything that I deliver is from a personal place. But that song is not exactly autobiographical, which is possibly misleading. I don’t want to be disingenuous with my fans. You have to find your way around that as a rapper because you have to be able to do more than just talk only about your life and your discography being this ongoing soap opera. You have to be able to creatively break out of that, and at the same time maintain this honest relationship with your audience. There’s definitely a lot in there [like] I can only cook a bowl of cereal.
Sarah Sussman: I was going to ask you that, too.
Shad: That’s the only thing I know how to cook. So there are things in there that are autobiographical but it’s not my diary.
Sarosh Rizvi: [On] your last album, you musically departed a bit. You had a few spoken word pieces on there. [And] again with this album, there’s still some more spoken word-type stuff on there. [Some tracks are] even bordering on country. Is that based on new influences, musically, for you? Or you just want to branch out?
Shad: That’s a good question. They’re actually not new influences. They’re actually stuff that’s always influenced me. [In] “Fam Jam,” for example, [when] you’re talking about the country [influence]: that’s West African musical influence that has always been there. That’s music that I grew up with. But I’ve never been at a point where I’ve been able to incorporate that into what I do. That’s experimentation and ways that I want to grow as an artist. There’s a full-on rock song on there. These are things that have always been there – as far as influences – but I’ve never been at a point in my own abilities as an artist to incorporate it into my own music. So I wanted to push myself in that way.
Sarosh Rizvi: Is that freedom that comes with security?
Shad: It’s freedom. But it’s more than freedom. I feel like I’m a little bit better as an artist so I can do it. There was a time where it was like, “All I can do – really – is you can loop up a sample and I can rap on it. And that’s what I can do. That’s the only thing I know for sure I can do well.” Now it’s like, “Well I can push the boundaries of this music and still feel like myself. And still feel like I’m making something that’s good. I have the knowledge. I have the collaborators and the contributors that can help realize those visions. I felt [I was] in a position to try to expand that a little bit more.
Sarah Sussman: And would that [branching out] also have to do with confidence? You’ve always kind of had a reputation as being quite a self-deprecating rapper.
Shad: Definitely. You trust yourself a bit more. (pauses) I don’t want to talk in those [“you”] terms. I trust myself more. I feel like if I commit to an idea, I can pull it off. Or at least I’m going to try to pull it off. I just have a bit better work ethic, a bit better discipline, and a bit better understanding of how things work in the studio.
Sarah Sussman: And you were just nominated for three Bucky Awards through CBC. “Stylin'” was nominated for both song of the year, and sexiest song of the year.
Shad: I don’t know. I can’t really picture that one getting thrown on with the lights turned down low. It’s too wordy. I think that’s just on account of the saxophone on there. Unless you’re going to take just the outro, with the saxophone and Sauk’s vocals.
Sarah Sussman: And the Kenny G line [“They say that kids got balls by the plenty, B/Sax like Kenny G”].
Shad: Maybe the Kenny G line. I don’t know what people do in their own private. I’ve never received that remark from a fan, for example. They’ve never been like, “Yo. We just throw on “Stylin'”—me and the wifey.” I’ve never heard that.
Sarah Sussman: So if you were to nominate a sexiest song off of Flying Colours, which one would it be?
Shad: Off of Flying Colours? (pauses) What’s a little more down-tempo, or something? With less words? (pauses) You can’t. With all that talking, it’s like there’s another person in the room talking to you guys.
Sarah Sussman: It’s not a sexy album.
Shad: It’s not. It’s not D’Angelo. It’s not a D’Angelo record. There’s a lot of talking. There’s a lot of words [and] loud drums. It’s not Luther Vandross at all.
Sarosh Rizvi: You said before that your albums were always based on the mood that you’re in in that moment. So what was your mood [for] this album? You said this album flowed easy [and] it wrote itself.
Shad: The cool thing was that I worked on this album over a long period of time. So it was really nice to be able to access different moods. There’s more serious stuff when I was thinking about some heavier issues. And then there’s songs like the outro or “Stylin'” that are just as playful as anything I’ve ever done. So it was nice to be able to work over a long period of time [and] access all these different moods. And also, to work through ideas. [On] a song like “Remember To Remember,” I wrote the first verse a year-and-a-half before I wrote the last verse. That’s a year-and-a-half of thinking and living. It’s cool to be able to do that. [It’s] slightly indulgent. But it’s cool. It maps a longer trajectory in my thinking and my ideas, and my experiences. And I get to show more dimensions of my personality, versus a shorter project where it’s really capturing five days and smaller parametres.
Sarah Sussman: Any last words you have for the HipHopCanada community?
Shad: Keep on doing what you’re doing and supporting this music in Canada because it’s in need of support, I think. Being on this tour — which has been awesome — and getting to play these shows, me and the guys can’t help but reflect from time-to-time on how few of us get to do this in this country. And it’s not right. There’s a lot of talent and people that should have a bigger platform than they have. So keep doing your work. Keep shining the light on established artists [as well as] not-established artists who are working hard because we definitely need a voice. So thank you.