Rapper Shad Wrestles with Humanity and Humility

By Ben Sutter 11-13-2013
Album art for Shad's "Flying Colours."

There is no mistaking it: Shad Kabango's music is authentic and tenacious. With incredible humility, he speaks from his heart, with no fear of calling out the inconsistencies he sees in the world.

In the recent release of his 4th studio album, Flying Colours, the critically acclaimed Canadian emcee, better known as simply "Shad," hopes his music speaks for itself.

"It's not easy to summarize or convey, I don't think," Shad said of the theme of the album, in a recent interview with Sojourners. "Some sort of … feeling of hope, I guess, but hope within the complexity of real life and the challenges of real life."

This complexity of life shows itself clearly throughout the entire album. From the first verse of his introductory song, "Intro:Lost," ("This is real pride in my eyes, it's not a cocky act/Look at us struggling and look how those at the top react") to the final song, "Epilogue: Lown Jawn," ("I'm wrapped in these rhyme schemes/And I rap to define me but, rap doesn't define me") Shad is clear that self-definition is not an easy task.

But, Shad does speak clearly about himself, giving him the ability to easily speak to larger themes. We see the world through Shad's eyes. By using the universal language of music, he emotes feelings that cannot be expressed in words, but that's not to say that his words aren't spot on. If there's anyone who has the mental capacity and the rhythmic, lyrical prowess to say exactly what he means, it's Shad. His wordplay and turns of phrases are definitely worth the rewind.

As I listened to this album, I wanted to quote almost every lyric, using his own words to highlight the clarity with which he speaks.

On "Y'all Know Me," Shad writes autobiographically (which for him is almost a redundant phrase), displaying culture and its impact on his own life.

"Rosa's still seated, saying 'please don't get off of the bus,'" Shad raps. "'It's history, never her story/And prophets get crushed/Tough topics get hushed/And life is often unjust.'"

Shad believes in music as a unique language. He is able to speak the truths of his realty, and thus the truths of common realities. While this is obvious throughout Flying Colours, it is incredibly apparent on"Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins)." In this song, Shad celebrates his own story while simultaneously joining it to the struggle of every immigrant living in a new country.

"'Now when you're Third World born, but First World formed, '" Shad raps. "'Sometimes you feel pride, sometimes you feel torn.'"

My favorite two-song punch on the album is certainly "Progress" followed by "Remember to Remember."

While "Progress" is a complex and experimental piece, Shad masterfully explores the history of America through the progress of music. He laments the allure of the music industry and wrestles with what this history has meant for black men and women living in America.

"When I talk about America," Shad said, "I mean it more as an idea, in a poetic sense — like when people talk about Rome or Babylon or Israel — as a context, as an empire, as an idea."

Speaking as a black man, Shad raps: "'I mean, look how we still scared to be ourselves/Can't speak out and I don't mean that we need a cell [phone]/And by cell I don't mean a jail/I mean, hell we locked up/And these banks keep receiving bail.'"

While these topics are often not easy to talk about, Shad raps with a humility and joy about life that is contagious.

"Remember to Remember" calls us all back to our histories, whatever that might entail. The theme is not only present in this song, but is a line that echoes throughout Flying Colours.

"To me it speaks to ordering priorities," Shad said. "Remembering values in a confusing and disordering world [and] life."

"'But this ain't a race to win," Shad raps. "It's a run to finish/And as long as I got breath in my lungs to end it/The enemy isn't the flesh and blood thugs and cynics./We fighting fear and pride for the love within us.'"

In the three years since his last album TSOL, Shad not only kept up with his music, but he also found time to complete a Masters in Liberal Studies at a university in Vancouver.

"This is my fourth album," he said. "I've been doing this longer than I probably thought that I would. […] I always kind of question in my mind, 'I wonder what's next. What's around the corner?'"

With his final two songs, Shad thanks many people for their support while he has pursued music. His final song even contemplates what it looks like for rappers to end their careers as rappers, ultimately expressing his appreciation for getting to rap as long as he has.

I, for one, hope this is not the last offering from Shad. But if it is, it's a glimpse into humanity I'm grateful to have heard.

Ben Sutter is the online assistant at Sojourners. Follow Ben on Twitter @BenSutter.

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"Rapper Shad Wrestles with Humanity and Humility"
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