Shad is kind of a big deal. He may be a relative newcomer in the minds of most US rap fans, but North of the border, in between complaints about the cold and apologizing for bumping into your fellow countryman on the street, they know Shad. The Kenyan-born, Toronto-bred, Vancouver-residing rapper is already three albums deep, but his skills are still being honed and it feels as though he has yet to even hit his stride. His last album was shortlisted for a Polaris Music Prize and it beat out Drake’s Thank Me Later for the Juno’s Best Rap Album award. His self-deprecating style may be somewhat unique to Canada, but his laid-back flow and ability to seemingly effortlessly tell stories over the beat has universal appeal.
Now, with his fourth album, Flying Colours, arriving October 15 via Black Box, the mild-mannered rapper is poised to make his mark on the industry. RESPECT. sat down with Shadto discuss his new album, “conscious rap,” his life post-music and more.
RESPECT: I remember a while back, you mentioned the difference between making your mark in Canada and in the US. Mainly, you said touring was the focus here and in the US you need to put out free music. You dropped Melancholy last year and you recently put out the Spring Up EP for free. How do you think that impacted your profile in the US?
Shad: It’s really hard for me to say because I’m not there much. It’s hard for me to get an impression as far as who is where listening to my music, if anyone at all. Those projects for me were more like, I was in the studio working hard on my full-length and I had these little opportunities to work on different things. Melancholy was just an idea I had on tour and I was like, “Ok, we’re just not gonna work on the album for five days and do this.” The Spring Up was just after I had finished [Flying Colours] and I still had some creative energy and banged out those tracks fast. So I wasn’t thinking about those as far as an exposure to the States kind of intention.
CBC ranked you as the second greatest Canadian rapper of all-time, right behind Maestro. To put that in perspective, the three that preceded you on the list were K-Os, Drake and Kardinal Offishall. What was your reaction when you found that out?
That was tremendous. I’m always amazed when people listen to my music that closely and put me in that category. That was great. Maestro is like our Rakim, Big Daddy Kane and KRS-One all-in-one. And, of course, Drake is Drake. So, to be put in that category is really special.
And your album TSOL also beat out Drake’s Thank Me Later for the Juno’s rap album of the year in 2011. So it’s safe to say that it’s you and not Kendrick who’s murdering Drake, right?
[Laughs.] I feel like Drake beats me 364 days a year so that was my one day.