Sound Advice: TSOL by Shad
Every Tuesday, Torontoist scours record store shelves in search of the city’s most notable new releases and brings you the best—or sometimes just the biggest—of what we’ve heard in Sound Advice.
“Maybe I’m not big ’cause I don’t blog or Twitter / Dawg, I’m bitter.” In the opening line of his recent single, “Yaa I Get It,” Shadrach Kabango ponders whether his lack of mainstream success stems from his weak grasp on Web 2.0. Really, his guess is as good as ours. With arguably sharper and wittier flows than Drake and nearly as much social consciousness and indie rock scene appeal as K’naan, it’s a wonder why the Kenya-born, London, Ontario-raised MC isn’t posturing in Sprite commercials or guest spotting on chart-busting Britpop singles, too. Granted, his Juno- and Polaris-nominated sophomore disc, Old Prince, garnered substantial critical acclaim and, with more eyes now on Hogtown hip-hop, TSOL seems poised to be Shad’s coming-out party.
Yet, while K’naan’s mainstream breakthrough, Troubadour, abandoned The Dusty Foot Philosopher’s gritty, indigenous rhythm–based approach for more widely accessible global pop ballads, nothing on TSOL sounds modified for broader appeal. Much like Old Prince, this disc relies heavily on late ‘80s and early ‘90s backpack rap—boom-bap beats, turntable scratching, soul samples, jazzy horns, dreamy string arrangements, and introspective lyrics devoid of any anthemic choruses, bling-worship, or gangsta-isms. The closest we see to a crossover move are collabs with Broken Social Scenesters Brendan Canning (“Lucky 1’s”) and Lisa Lobsinger (“Rose Garden,” “Lucky 1’s”), but their contributions, while high in name-drop value, subtly compliment the record’s consistent Golden Age vibe rather than distract from it.
Really, though, rhymes are Shad’s bread and butter, and on TSOL they’re at their craftiest. Dude scrawls partly serious, partly silly stream-of-consciousness missives littered with pop cultural references as disparate as right-wing pundits, pop divas, and candy bars, sometimes within the same verse: “If I had two slugs to spray like ra-ra / Glen Beck better duck like foie gras / Makes shots, poke his face like Gaga / But momma says forgive, so I give him that bar like a Mars and let him live.” Elsewhere, he calls for more female rappers (“Keep Shining”), explains the etymology of his name (“A Good Name”), and kvetches about his romantic misadventures (“Telephone”). And, of course, he doesn’t shy away from the gratuitous GTA shout-outs (“The Mississauga continues / Brampton, my DJ’s lampin like Green Lantern”).
Sure, TSOL doesn’t break much new stylistic ground over Old Prince, and that may hinder this disc’s potential to make big waves over the border. But as Shad spits on “Yaa I Get It,” “Record sales I’m low commission but the vision’s mine.” Don’t knock the man for staying the course; homie’s just keepin’ it real.