Quest For Glory: An Interview with SHAD

ShadHe was born in Kenya and raised in Canada. He is fluent in English and French. He has a business degree from Wilfred Laurier University and is working on a master’s degree in liberal studies at Simon Fraser University. Oh, and he’s also a tremendous rap artist. Lauren Eldridge of Backstage Vancouver found out just as much in her interview with Shad, who talked about his relation to the rap industry, his faith and the social aspects of his music.

My first dose of Shad was on 21 February 2009 at the Biltmore Cabaret, and I’ve been addicted ever since. He is an emcee from London, Ontario, and has been living in Vancouver for over a year now. His shows present his energetic live personality, entertaining freestyle skills, and the unique ability to play guitar and rap simultaneously. What struck me at the concert was his sincere and down-to-earth presence, elevating him immediately to the rank of one of the most genuine people I had ever encountered. You get what you see, and you can’t help but love it. Shad says that the balance between being himself and being a performer is that the music is “still you, but it’s entertaining people and it’s having fun, and to me that’s inseparable.” This is especially evident in his lyrics, which have as much profound yet understated self-reflection as his conversation.

Shad’s awareness reaches much farther than self-reflection. He describes his song “I Heard You Had A Voice Like An Angel/Psalm 137” as his reflection on “an industry that is, to a great extent, damaging culture and damaging people, and yet the face of it is smiling, singing and dancing.” Although Shad does not grapple with identity issues as an artist, this ability to reflect on social issues allows him to be more insightful and intellectually stimulating than most artists in his category. The fact that his social commentary is performed as smooth rap allows audience to experience the songs in a more holistic sense. Shad says “that if you make music that people can appreciate not even on a number of levels, but if they can at least appreciate it on any level, then that’s great. Whether it’s just hearing it and melodically it sounds nice, or if it’s really getting into the core of it, then I think that’s cool.”

‘Cause I rap like it’s my hobby / not a jobby-job all sloppy and off-key (“I Don’t Like To”).

Shad singing

Photo by Christine McAvoy

This passion for his music is what makes Shad so amazing, because it is readily apparent in his songs. Refusing to compromise is an integral component in the genuine integrity of Shad’s music. As with a number of his songs, “‘Compromise’ is one of those songs that you write for yourself, and it might apply to other people as well.” Indeed, who hasn’t struggled with the notion of compromising? This particular song is Shad’s personal memo, serving as a constant reminder of why he is making music. Shad says he is “sorting that out all the time. I’m constantly remembering what I’m trying to do with my music. I’m trying to engage and entertain, and basically do something worthwhile, share something that is uniquely mine to share.” Looking back at his two albums (The Old Prince in 2007 and When This is Over in 2005), he is confident that he has been on the right track with what he is sharing. He believes that “if what you put out there is (at that time) honest, the best of your ability, and genuinely generous (if it’s for people)… I think that’s fine.” Shad’s music can also be as funny as it is clever. His subtle combination of hilarity and awareness carries his point across in a way that is neither confrontational nor lacking in musical talent.

Yo it’s hard to be / man it’s hard to just be, man / especially in this artistry / it’s hard to be black and / not be a hard emcee / or R&B and that’s cool if that’s you / but what if all you are is me? (“What We All Want”)

Now that Shad is an established artist, he no longer feels the intense anxiety that many people are subject to upon first starting out in the industry. “I think it’s an idea that we can all relate to, a little bit. The notion that this person’s this, this person’s that, and I’m neither. I’m just me, and is that okay? Is that fine? Is that worthwhile?” I’m focused on trying to stay focused (“Now A Daze”), and it’s paying off. Shad is about to embark on the Warped Tour across America this summer, and he hopes to start recording a new album this fall. He’s almost completed his Masters, and things are looking up for Shad. I’d say his future is so bright he needs sunglasses, but that would be cheesy.

You gotta have confidence / but what about humility / well I’m not saying be pompous / just recognize your ability (“New School Leaders”)

Shad princeThe fact that Shad is aware of his talent enables him to write and perform to the best of his ability. And yet the knowledge of his capabilities has not gone to his head. Shad knows he’s good, but it just makes you like him all the more for it, because he has the confidence to be himself. This notion of social and self-awareness is a recurring theme in Shad’s music. He says, “It shows humility and a bit of maturity.” He writes his lyrics as much like conversation as possible, so as to engage in something close to dialogue with the audience. Shad believes that “everybody has something to share,” and that it does need to be shared with others. For Shad, success is a function (and a product) of expectation. He explains that he’s “really realistic in my expectations… I’m pleased. It’s met pretty much all of my realistic hopes for how things could have gone.” This down-to-earth, laid-back philosophy is a refreshing change in today’s society, and it comes across in his music. “There is pride that you take in work that’s well done, and there’s a joy you get from people receiving it well.” Even the downside of the weight of expectation can’t negate the positive benefits Shad is reaping from his labour.

Is there a God? If there were no answers wouldn’t that be odd? (“Question Marks”)

You could say Shad is religious. He believes in God, and it comes through in his lyrics. His clever integration of references sees such variety as Ne-Yo and Moses in sequential breaths. However, Shad’s beliefs lie in something as big as God: love. He believes in this chorus: This wisdom of man / is foolishness to God / Don’t build on the sand / or trust in the odds / Be shrewd as the snakes / and innocent as doves / Don’t succumb to hate / overcome hate with love (“Exile”). Shad feels that “the highest wisdom in the world is loving people,” despite the fact that it is counter-intuitive in today’s capitalist society. Shad calls us to action in his songs, even though getting up after being knocked down is a well-known adage. His response to the apathetic and desensitized nature of our generation is that we must do something: “if nothing else we have to take charge of our own life, not let life pass us by and not just become whatever life makes us. We have to be deliberate about choosing who we want to be.” This drive and motivation has propelled Shad this far, and promises to carry him as far as he chooses to go.

The world’s a stage / but not everyone acts right (“Out of Love”), yet we’re lucky to have Shad as an exception.

To see some amazing photos of Shad’s concert at the Biltmore Cabaret, visit photographer Christine McAvoy’s album.

Comments (3)


  1. Shad performs at the Biltmore Cabaret with Fond of Tigers.

  2. Brenda says:

    Hey Lauren! Thanks for the link!
    This is an amazing interview by the way, love the way you were able to integrate your conversation into the text, instead of the usual back-and-forth format. It’s also very in-depth.
    And just FYI, the chorus from Exile that you quoted is chockful of biblical alliterations. The man’s done his reading. :)

  3. […] and their energy contagious. I’ve seen them open for Hey Ocean! at UBC (the night I met Shad), and even though I haven’t listened to them since, I can sing and dance to Voodoo as though […]