Keeping it Kabango

Another Polaris nomination under his belt, London-based rapper Shad is still the peoples’ MC

With his latest record TSOL, Shad continues to succeed by balancing relevant old school hip hop with underground appeal.
With his latest record TSOL, Shad continues to succeed by balancing relevant old school hip hop with underground appeal.
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Jay-Z summed it up for the general public, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.” Kenyan-born, London, Ontario-raised rapper Shad’s (aka Shadrach Kabango) approach to making music involves business too—just don’t expect to hear about grills or guns in his verses.

“It’s not what interests me, really,” he said. “When I really started to get interested in making music it was for the fun of it. Discovering stuff about myself as I was writing and doing something I thought was unique and special and worthwhile and engaging.”

His application of business theory to the music industry explains a lot about the stereotype-defying rapper. Of the two ways to compete; to be better than everyone else or to be different, Shad said he has always chosen the latter.

“I try to let [my personality] creep in as much as possible because I think that’s what makes it interesting,” he said. “I think less about if this is the best song I’ve ever made and if this is a song only I would make.”

His down-to-earth nature and earnest genuine personality have come to be his defining features over the years. Speaking to him over the phone pre-empting his visit to Kingston for the Wolfe Island Music Festival, I can see why.

His lack of interest in the gimmicky side of the hip hop game has lead to him being labelled as a poster-boy in Canadian music. Time and time again he’s been all too quickly positioned as rap’s wholesome “boy next door”. But deducing Shad to an archetypal small-town-boy Canadiana story subscribes him to a tired cultural stereotype he hardly engages in.

In the stadium sized, “99 Problems”-esque “Yaa I Get It” he acknowledges the conundrum and spits, “I hate the catch phrase ‘Canadian Rap Sensation’”, after amalgamating golden age hip-hop with underground self-consciousness and frustration with his surroundings by opening, “Maybe I’m not big ‘cause I don’t blog or Twitter/ Dog, I’m bitter.”

His place as an MC is long established with his penchant for surprising pop culture references, provocative creativity and lyrical dexterity.

“I think what I try to do is really concern myself with the audience and always try to think about how I can not bore them,” he said. “I keep that at the forefront of my mind, the things you’re inspired to say and the songs you’re inspired to make, that’s good but it’s always important to remember you’re making music for other people, not always just for yourself, you have to think about how they’re receiving it.”

The steady interest from fans might have something to do with the evident respect Shad holds for them.

“It’s ok to challenge your audience and think, ‘how can I keep this conversation interesting?’” he said. “I think people actually like to be challenged, it keeps them engaged but you can’t take it too far.”

Perhaps acknowledging the frequent overlap of celebrity and humanitarianism, Shad explained his views on his role as an artist and his hesitation to grapple with issues bigger than him.

“You can’t expect people to listen to something that’s not music or is essentially a speech or a lecture, that’s not why people listen to music,” he said. “My only responsibility and any artist’s responsibility is to be creative and to be honest … I don’t feel it necessary to speak on any subject to which I may not be qualified.”

2010’s highly anticipated once again combines intelligent and conscientious lyrics with well developed beats and witty wordplay demonstrating what Shad does best, providing relevant, honest to goodness old school hip hop (not to mention gaining him another Polaris nomination).

There are no rules when it comes to the repertoire. Genres overlap on wrapping layered samples, orchestral backing and bluesy soulful hooks with deeply thought out personal reflection on his surroundings.

Along with his home base DJ T-Lo, Shad brought in a competent production and collaboration crew with Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning and Lisa Lobsinger along with compadres Classified and Relic.

His earnestness is embodied in his humble and frequent answer, “That’s just me being myself.”

Shad walks the walk while remaining unassuming, unpretentious and effortlessly motivated by the music, “I had to contribute, I had something unique and I think that really means a lot when you have something unique.”

Shad plays the Wolfe Island Music Festival Aug 7. See factbox on page 19 for details.

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