Which do you want first: the good news or the bad news? Let’s save the good news. The bad news is that your favorite rapper may soon no longer hold the title of your favorite rapper. That’s because (the good news) people are finally waking up to the brilliance of Shad, Shad K, Shadrach Kabango – whatever you want to call him, Shad by any other name would still rhyme as sweet.
The Canadian emcee (we’re past the whole Canada-Can’t-Hip-Hop thing, right?) effectively redefines the rules of wordplay in contemporary hip-hop on his latest album, the punctual and uplifting TSOL. After an intro that lulls the listener into a false sense of security and serenity with trip-hop-like drum taps and turntable cuts ripping some classic lines from around the time of The Native Tongues, Shad blasts off into what is likely the album’s (maybe even year’s?) finest track, “Rose Garden”. Featuring a catchy Motown sample, Shad delivers bars explaining that more or less flesh out the concept of taking the good with the bad.
And just when you think TSOL couldn’t possibly get any more optimistic, the semi-cheesy (only because it’s a song that’s been done many times before) yet smile-inducing “Keep Shining” is on deck. Although many rappers have previously rapped about living life with proper morals and pursuing dreams with fervor, Shad has a special knack for melting the microphone with wicked wordplay and flawless flow.
Shad spends the rest of the album teaching ears about his familial lineage, his views on the music business, long-distance relationships, the need for an end to the violence in Darfur, depression (don’t worry – there is a pleasant resolve), and all sorts of odd topics that he manages to squeeze in. There’s even a subtle hint at his opposition to animal violence as Shad discusses baby seal clubbing (I swear – it’s still an uplifting album).
To those familiar with Shad’s back catalogue – particularly the astonishing The Old Prince – his affinity for speaking out on all sorts of topics that he feels society should address should come as no surprise. And I mentioned his wordplay? Falling somewhere between comical free-association and how-the-eff-did-he-think-of-that, lines like “Seven days of black power naps every 48 half hours / That’s 24 starring Jack Bauer” are simply phenomenal.
From start to finish, the beats remain consistently engaging, with just minor slip-ups on “Yaa I Get It” and “We, Myself and I” (they go really hard, but don’t fit the soulful vibe of the album). Coupled with the fact that Shad’s rhymes are nearly lethal, TSOL leaves very little to be desired. It’s creative, enlightening, and altogether fun.