Every once in a while an artist comes along who articulates the experience of a generation. Right now, in Canada, that artist is Shad. The Kenyan-born, London, Ontario–raised star nails what it feels like to be a grown-up rap fan in this country. The 29-year-old adores hip-hop, but doesn’t feel the need to mimic its machismo; he’s successful, yet not grandiose. He’s into pop culture, but still bookish (he just completed a master’s degree in liberal studies at SFU). He’s immersed in social networking, but convinced that it’s made us all too reactive. He counts comic Russell Peters among his fans, but is also pumped to have met Alan Frew from Glass Tiger. In short, he’s about as Canadian as they come.
“We have our own experiences here, and our own culture, and our own way of expressing ourselves,” the man born Shadrach Kabango tells the Straight over the phone. “As much as we’re influenced [by the States], we have definitely stumbled onto our own voice, or voices.”
And that’s the beauty of being a hip-hop artist north of the border these days. Numerous factors—including arts funding and the fact that Drake’s reign has freed artists from the stigma of both being Canadian and being emo—make this a magical time in rap.
Shad is at the forefront of this movement. He got his start in 2005, while in university, when his sister entered him in a Hamilton radio-station contest. (“I was a bit too lazy and dishevelled to do it,” he jokes.) After winning $17,500, he made an eclectic album, When This Is Over, and applied all he’d learned at business school to promoting it.
His next outing, The Old Prince, featured the “The Old Prince Still Lives at Home”, a tongue-in-cheek ode to aimless, broke men who are slow to move out of their parents’ homes. The song was hilarious, but it was also a thoughtful exploration of a new phenomenon.
“I think it is something that is unique to our generation,” Shad says. “We have this weird time in our life now that exists.”
The rapper went on to release TSOL last year, which won him a Juno and cemented his reputation as a reflective rapper unafraid to reference Glenn Beck, Richard Branson, and God all in one track.
He also sees nothing wrong with raising one of rap’s biggest taboos: misogyny.
“We have this weird relationship to the music we listen to, where we don’t expect very much of it,” he explains. “There’s this understanding that what we listen to doesn’t always mesh with our values.”
Taking a more enlightened approach, Shad has become synonymous with one of his lyrics: “I want a Claire Huxtable.” Now U.S. hip-hop legend Common is sporting a T-shirt with that slogan at shows. And that, friends, is just how far this generation of Canadian rappers has come.
Shad plays LIVE in Squamish on Saturday (August 20).