Chopping It Up With Shad About What It Means To Be ‘Conscious’ In Rap





  1. aware of and responding to one’s surroundings; awake.
  2. having knowledge of something; aware.

The term conscious has been used to describe artists who spit though-provoking lyrics, use intricate concepts or really just weave any type of everyday life into their wordplay. It says something about the level of music being put out that we must use a term to describe any music with meaning. One conscious artist from the norm is all about blurring the lines between inspiring words and fun-filled mentality to liberate fans from the constraints of music categorization.

Sitting inside of a photo studio located on the west edge of downtown Toronto, Shad, a native of London, Ontario, sits in a modern-day white rocking chair. He doesn’t fit the image of the stereotypical rapper with his collared shirt and goofy smile. Just a few days earlier he released his fourth studio album, Flying Colours, to critical acclaim. It seems the year plus he spent working on it, recording at Toronto’s Dreamhouse Studios was well worth it.

“It’s the most fun that I’ve ever had working on an album. It’s the hardest I’ve ever worked on an album, but those are two experiences that I wanted. I wanted to really have a little bit of space to experiment, to push my creativity and also, just to have fun.”

With joints such as “Fam Jam” and “He Say, She Say”, on the new project, fans are getting the witty, thought-provoking Shad on an even more experienced, darker and layered level than they did with his last project, TSOL. Back in the game with a vengeance and spitting the real with his trademarked laidback flow, he touches on political topics, immigration, life lessons and growth and does it in a way that makes his listeners evaluate beyond the surface of regular lyrics.

The poor struggle with needs/ The rich struggle with greed/ This camel struggle to squeeze through the eye of a needle/ Some eyes struggle to see/ But we all struggle for freedom/ Instead of freeing each other/ By letting ourselves be,” he raps on the Flying Colours cut “Remember To Remember.”

He speaks for not only himself, but as a collective voice for those who don’t have the platform. “It’s natural to me. I want to say something with my music,” explains Shad. “To me, that’s the part that makes it feel worthwhile. It’s not a lecture series, it’s an album, I want it to be musical first and foremost, but I like music meaning. I want to make music with meaning.” The range of relatable music he has is a testament to the conversation he has sparked with his music, all the while enjoying the ride with his smooth-style.

Two nights later, as his fans line up around the block to experience his sold-out show at Toronto’s Opera House, which kicked off the Flying Colours nationwide tour, Shad’s ability to connect with people is apparent. Selling out the venue, with its near 1000 people capacity, is a feat many international artists haven’t even been able to accomplish. There can only be one reason this Canadian rapper filled up one of the biggest venues in the city, as he showcased such a powerfully energetic show, which ended with a double encore. It appears hip-hop fans want substance again.

At the merchandise booth before the show, Steve McPhail, a young fan of Shad’s, copped not only a Flying Colours tee, but also the album on vinyl in support for one of his favourite artists. “I’ve seen Shad before. He puts on a really great show and I’ve been listening to him for year. He has a really unique style of hip-hop, in my opinion. He has very unique lyrics,” says McPhail, who is later spotting clutching his merch amidst the sea of fans, all rapping along with the positivity-enriched tracks.

When creating, Shad has always felt the need to use his music as a platform for informative and personal topics in order to draw awareness to them, he says. It is not so much a defined term such as ‘conscious’ to him, but rather a natural instrument for connecting to others through similar situations and creating a conversation, which began from his early interests in music.

“The stuff that really grabbed my attention when I was a teenager was Common, Lauryn Hill and people that were going to another level of depth and courage as far as confronting difficult things with their music in a way that was still fun and interesting. Part of it is, that’s where my interest goes and those are the tools that I have as an artist. I think that artists have different talents, different tools to engage people and that’s what I have at my disposal, a certain amount of wisdom in my lyrics,” he explains.

In an era full of southern beats, molly raps and twerking, there may seem to be pressures placed on artists willing to stand against the norm and stand up for their art form., when so many music fans seem to be looking for the rattle of 808s in their speakers and a few pop culture metaphors that rhyme. But for Shad, being labelled as a conscious artist is something he doesn’t take too seriously, even though he sees many of his peers shy away from the term.

“The biggest pressure is that people expect a level of thought to what you do, although at the same time, I’ve always had a silly side to me that people understand is there, so that’s been my saving grace, because it can be more pressure than artists can handle…I don’t run away from that [conscious] label, but I see how people respond to that label and it’s not good,” he says.

Chances are, any artist that is innovating and spreading a message in this rap era will be one to leave a greater legacy with his/her music and that is precisely what Shad hopes to accomplish with his music as he states that he is nowhere near finished telling the stories he wants to tell.

“I hope that it’s the kind of music that liberates people a little bit in the sense that, I hope that they can accept themselves more, forgive themselves more, because I guess that’s where I’m trying to get to and that’s what I’m trying to sort through to some extent.”


Article previously published by Urbanology Magazine

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