If someone were to ask you to name a Canadian hip-hop artist, chances are your immediate response would be Drake. Well, EARMILK got the chance to sit down with a lesser known Toronto-based rapper whose unique style and thought-provoking lyrics gave him the juice to beat out powerhouse Drake for the 2011 Juno Award for Rap Recording of the Year.
Shadrach Kabango, known by the name of Shad, has been proving that he's not your average mainstream rapper since his debut in 2005. If you're interested in hearing songs that revolve around money, drugs, and hype, then the tracks from Shad's four albums are not for you.
Born in Africa, Shad's Rwandan parents supported his passion from the age of 14. His first album, When This is Over, was entirely self-made, financed with his winnings from a rap competition. Shad quickly gained recognition from the hip hop community for his attention to social injustices and affinity for moving an audience.
Signed by Black Box Recordings, Shad went on to produce three more albums, win multiple awards, and take part in legendary collaborations. His sound has been compared to the likes of Common and k-os, with a "quick-witted tongue, on-point ear, and truly unique passion for hip-hop." (Okayplayer)
We talked to Shad about his latest album, Flying Colours, released last month. He gave us some insight into his journey from the beginning; inspirations, evolution of sound, fondest memories, and hopes for the future. Take a look at what makes Shad a wonderfully unique artist with lasting potential.
EARMILK: State your full name and current location.
Shad: Shadrach Kabango, current hometown Vancouver, British Columbia.
EM: Before that?
S: I was born in Kenya.
EM: Do you want to talk about that?
S: Yeah. I was born in Kenya but my family is from Rwanda. We were really just there briefly, which gets misconstrued now because of certain lyrics. But really, they were just funny, that’s why I said them. My parents live in Rwanda now with my little brother.
EM: Do you go visit?
S: I do. Like once a year.
EM: You got some favorite places there?
S: My family's house. When I go back there, it’s like going to your parents' house for Christmas. I have some friends there, I see them but mostly I just lie around the house. I eat food and hang with my family. It’s a beautiful country, and it’s been on the up and up for the last 15 to 20 years. So you know, it’s a positive atmosphere there and a positive mode, generally speaking.
EM: What are your family's thoughts on you pursuing music, and how did that come about?
S: They were initially much more supportive than I thought they would be. We were an immigrant family. Your parents want you to go to school and do something stable and have a stable life, which is the thing they never had and the whole reason why we came here. They were remarkably supportive. They saw that I cared about it and that I enjoyed it. I mean, what else could good caring parents want for their kid, right? I was pleasantly surprised and they continue to be supportive. They love what I do even if they don’t exactly understand what I’m saying.
EM: Do they have any favorite songs by you?
S: They do actually. There’s like a couple maybe on my first album. Actually it’s spread out, it’s spread out a little bit. Storytelling ones, they can follow those and they like that. There’s a song called “A Good Name", and “Fam Jam” presumably.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rdynx3pvFK8
EM: Ah, that’s one of my favorite ones! I liked the beat on that track, who produced it?
S: That was produced by Skratch Bastid, a DJ in Toronto. Wicked guy, wicked friend. He and I worked very closely on that song.
EM: Can we talk about the producers on the new album? All the beats were so all over the place and I loved it. It was very different, even you rapping on each track was very different.
S: Yeah, there’s a few different producers. One guy, Rick Notes, did a couple of tracks. He did the intro, he did a song called “Thank You”. He’s another Toronto guy. I like his sensibilities as far as melodies and he’s got this bounce to his tracks that I really like. So he did a couple. Scratch Bastard did “Fam Jam" and “Stylin.” I’d say the majority of the other tracks I built from scratch in the studio with a couple of musicians and developed the ideas for the beats there.
EM: Cool. Can you tell me about the current project, the album, the results, and how you feel about it?
S: Yeah. The album is called Flying Colours. I worked on it for about a year and a half, off and on. I didn’t sleep in the studio for a year and a half, but I started a year and a half before it was done. What can I say?
EM: You can talk about some tracks on there. Like the "American Pie" cover, that was very interesting to me. Why did you choose that song, it was a really long song as well. Clearly I got all the lyrics and read along. (laughs)
S: Yeah, okay, so I heard the original by Don McLean. In my head I was drawing a parallel because that song was a long legend inspired by the death of Buddy Holly. Right away in my head I kind of paralleled that with Biggie and Tupac. Then my imagination started going and these images started cascading, almost updating, in my imagination. It was almost like an update to that song with sort of a dark twist. So that was that one. Most of my songs are pretty conversational or loose freestyle in tone where as that one is straight up abstract and has a different feel. It was fun to get to explore some different images and do a different kind of track.
EM: What about “He Say, She Say”?
S: That was one of the fastest ones to come together because I had written the lyrics before. That one is not exactly autobiographical. For some reason it was resonating and just came out… I wrote it very easily and kind of stumbled on the chorus, which I really liked. So I had the lyrics and then one day in the studio I stumbled on this chord progression that I thought would work very well, and that one came together very fast.
EM: Let’s talk about the collaborations on the projects. How did those come about?
S: Well most of them are all Canadians, for the most part Toronto or Vancouver people. Just whoever was down the street that was really talented and really awesome. Most of them I had worked with before or talked with for a long time and then eventually a song came about. All of them were very easy, organic collaborations. It was nice because I hate waiting for people. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t do a ton of collaborations with people. I don’t like imposing on people. Take the "American Pie" song, for example. It’s so unique to my imagination that I can’t even imagine trying to fit anyone into that concept. Like, "Yeah, I am doing this abstract update on Don McLean’s 'American Pie'. You want a verse?" It doesn’t really make sense to say that. So most of the collaborations were pretty organic and done with someone I had worked with before.
EM: Cool. If you didn’t have to wait on anyone, who would you want to collab with?
S: That’s a good question. The thing is that there are artists that I really love but my instinct has never been to work with them. Some people have that instinct. I don’t have that instinct. I’ve always been like, I like so and so, I can’t even imagine having a song together.
EM: Yeah, it’s just respect.
S: Yeah, I mean I just like what they do. And I don’t even think it would necessarily go well on a song if we worked on a song together.
EM: I think Paul McCartney just did a song with a producer or something and it didn’t work. It’s all for money.
S: I mean, there are Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson songs, and they’re not very good.
EM: It’s like those movies where they put all those actors into one film and then make a ton of money on Christmas Day and then it’s over.
S: I’ve always wanted to produce a movie like that and then have all of them die in three minutes. Like kill them all off except for the few that will carry the movie really well. “It was a great movie, although everyone I wanted to see in it died.”
EM: And then give it all away when you’re telling your friends about it.
S: And I want the people who die to be the people who never die in movies.
EM: Are you a comedy fan?
S: Yeah, I like comedy. But I think it would be amazing if people saw Julia Roberts die. Like in the first five minutes, just get shot. (laughs)
EM: Moving on… let's talk about your musical past, your influences growing up.
S: In high school I listened to Biggie a lot, Common a lot, Outkast, Lauryn Hill, Ras Kass. But I also liked whatever was on the radio, every single thing. I learned to play guitar because I liked some rock bands. I listened to everything.
EM: Do you ever think about playing guitar on some of your tracks?
S: Oh I have. On the "American Pie" track and some others.
EM: No way! I wish I knew that!
S: Yeah. There’s actually been a lot of people who assumed that wasn’t me. I just didn’t credit anyone. “Y’all Know Me”, I wrote the guitar riff for that.
EM: Do you think your sound has evolved since your previous albums?
S: Yeah, I think I can execute more now than I could before. I don’t know if that is necessarily better, but there is a greater range of emotions and ideas that I can express freely. Whereas before I think I was pretty confined to certain things and certain aspects of who I was. I mean, there are certain aspects of me that I can express now. I think I have grown in that sense.
EM: You a big fan of Canada?
S: I am a big fan of Canada.
EM: A lot of people from there are, so I was just curious. I want to hear about the culture of the people.
S: Canada is great. We have a lot of room. A lot of space.
EM: What do you think about New York?
S: I like New York. To me, New York is not necessarily where I would want to live or be, but in terms of a city, to me it’s the best in the world. I like the people, they seem interested in each other and sociable. It’s like, it’s interesting. There’s a lot of stuff going on. To me it’s the best city in the world. I like living in Canada. I like Canada. I think it’s an interesting place, you gotta visit.
EM: Are you a funny guy? Do you consider yourself a jokester?
S: I find a lot of things funny. I find everything funny.
EM: Do people think you’re really serious?
S: My music is more serious than I am. But that’s normal. People turn to music when they’re trying to get stuff off their chest. People’s music is really a lot more serious than they are. I would say that I get it from my mom though. We both find absolutely everything funny.
EM: I read this somewhere. Have you heard of people calling your music "the other rap"? Do you know what that means?
S: No, I don’t think I know what that means.
EM: They were talking about your boom bap style.
S: Yeah, like the other thing, the alternative.
EM: Yeah, not your typical flow, I don’t know.
S: Well yeah. I think my whole career has been outside the mainstream in terms of what I do. But nowadays there's less of a mainstream so everyone gets in where they fit in. That’s always been my philosophy anyways.
EM: Could you define your style in three words to one sentence?
S: Three words: Smart, silly, and sincere.
EM: Let’s ask some fun questions. Do you think you have a spirit animal?
EM: A llama? Woah. Tell me why.
S: Unique spelling. Which I’ve always felt drawn to. It’s a mountain animal. I like mountains. And it’s useful, and I like to think of myself as pragmatic and useful to others, helpful.
EM: Do you know a lot about llamas?
S: I do.
EM: Okay, favorite show growing up.
S: I watched a lot of TV growing up so to actually pick my favorite… It’s gotta be between The Cosby Show and The Wonder Years. I own it on DVD. Winnie Cooper.
EM: Favorite movie?
S: I like the Matrix, Lord Of The Rings. Really good epic movies. I really like V For Vendetta. The Lives of Others is one I saw recently. But I’m not a big movie guy. They’re long.
EM: Do you have a memorable meal?
S: At my sister's wedding. We had the wedding ceremony and then we went to take pictures. You know, you got to take pictures and you get hungry. One of the groomsmen was a genius and ordered these sandwiches to the park where we were taking photos. Lamb sandwiches, laaaaamb sandwiches. Which is the tastiest of meats, it’s like naturally spicy. So those lamb sandwiches, I was almost in tears. It became the greatest wedding of all time, and then after the reception there was a dessert bar. Surprise dessert bar and I think I actually cried. Not because it was my sister getting married but because it was maybe one of the best food days of my life.
EM: If you had a super power what would it be?
S: Super Money. Is that a power?
EM: You could be your own money tree, you just grow money!
S: I’d have Super Money.
EM: What do you have coming up in the future?
S: Yeah, so I do a Canadian tour. Which will be great. From there hopefully in the new year I’ll do some more dates in the States and Europe and go from there. See who takes to the music.
EM: Where are you playing in Canada?
S: Everywhere, we go from coast to coast. We play in Newfoundland, Halifax, going cross country. In my van. We'll just do a few dates in the states. Chicago, Minneapolis. The upper Midwest.
EM: Who do you bring on the road with you?
S: DJ Tello, who I went to school with. We’ve been touring together for years. Then a guy who plays bass and keys. He switches back and forth between his synths and his bass and then my DJ has turntables and a beat machine.
EM: What did you study in school?
S: I studied business in my undergrad. By the time I finished, I had just finished my first album.
EM: What’s a hidden talent?
S: I’m excellent at Tetris.
Be sure to check out Shad's Flying Colours. You can buy it now over on iTunes.
- Black Box Recordings