My aim is to entertain and inspire
walk through the rain and the fire
pay bills, keep sane and retire,
with a name that’s admired.
Rare is the modern hip hop album that comes with a clear mission statement. I think it’s equally as rare for a modern artist to set such a lofty goal for themselves, and to be so clearly hitting the mark. Perhaps even more impressive than mission statements and loftiness is the ability to put Lights on one of your songs and have it end up as perhaps my favourite song on your album. Eternal hill HOFer Shad accomplishes all of these things in the space of one song (Remember To Remember) on his fantastic new album Flying Colours.
Gotta love that Canadian spelling. Make no mistake, this is indeed a Canadian hip hop album, yet Shad finds himself in the somewhat un-Canadian position of being on the top of his game and boasting about it. But braggadocios raps are as old as Cazals and/or Gazelles, so it’s great to see a talented emceee like Shad set the stage with a track like opener Intro:Lost. He shows his lyrical chops with line after line, and even shows off a double time flow we didn’t think he had, but then adds some introspection with verses from Ian Kamau & my friend K-Os. Although the contrast of the three verses might be a bit jarring, it works well to set up the rest of the album. Shad has found himself embraced by the CDN musical mainstream (for our purposes, we’ll identify the mainstream here as the CBC Music crowd), and although he’s clearly happy to be in this position, he’s equally committed to challenging that mainstream and get his listeners thinking about societal issues they are usually content to ignore or conveniently forget about (and I include myself with this group).
Flying Colours really is a great album. The whole “nobody makes albums any more!!” meme is about as tired as the Dos Equis guy, and Shad shows us it’s not necessarily true. There are plenty of singles here, but I think they are much better as a full serving. Due to his skill as a songwriter and as an emcee, Shad manages to dedicate songs to a well-rounded set of topics like love & relationships (Love Means, He Say She Say), the tribulations and triumphs of New Canadians (Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins)), and his own success and place in the music biz (Ya’ll Know Me, Stylin’), all while managing to create the kind of engaging songs that keep your attention from start to finish. Even the Progress suite, his spoken-word-like, Don McLean-cribbing American commentary, which I was a little puzzled by at first, won me over completely with the depth and passion of its lyrics.
If I’m being honest, I doubt I’ll be writing too many full-fledged hip hop album reviews in the future. I find it hard to believe that the kids trolling the blogs for rap reviews are at all interested in hearing an oldster such as myself ramble on about how the kind of hip hop they love is hot garbage. But music, in a way that so few things can, has the ability to stike a nerve. It was that way when I first had my dome exploded by “Don’t Believe The Hype” in 1988 and it remains so today. There will always be records that inspire me, and true to his word, Shad’s latest is one of those. Hopefully this review can still play a small part in helping others get similarly inspired.