A/S/L: Shad wants to make a record that sounds like Phoenix

by Josiah Hughes

November 21, 2013






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Photo: Justin Broadbent

At this point, it’s almost required knowledge for Canadians to know what’s up with Shad (born Shadrach Kabango). The rapper’s built a name for his reliable production, thoughtful subject matter, and remarkable wordplay, all of which is once again on display on his new LP Flying Colours. There’s plenty to talk about with Shad, but I chose to talk to him about the things I usually talk about with people (namely Yeezus and Gchat’s smiley pooface emoticon). We also found some common ground in the fact that we’re both incurably messy.

Josiah Hughes: Hey man, what’s up?

Shad: Sorry I was on invisible mode! Chillin… how are you?

Josiah: Pretty good! Just kicking it at work. Do you go on Gchat often?

Shad: Never! I used to but I was burning too much time on there. I now burn that time on Facebook.

Josiah: Haha! Yeah I hear you. I guess if you don’t have an office job there are probably way better ways to spend your day

Shad: Gchat is fun tho, I miss it. But fb’s got videos and articles about Miley Cyrus and stuff… If I have to choose one…

Josiah Hughes: Hahaha I mean I assume you know about this

. That emoticon is the one thing that keeps me coming back.

Shad: Man… I forgot about the art of the emoticon! A beautiful thing.

Josiah: A very potent way to express yourself. What city are you in right now?

Shad: Vancouver

Josiah: How long have you lived there again? Been a while, right?

Shad: Yeah man… first came here to go to school in fall ‘07. Was back and forth for a while and more permanently here since 2010.

Josiah: You were going to SFU right?

Shad: Yup.

Josiah: Did you finish your degree?

Shad: Yessir.

Josiah: In what?

Shad: M.A. in Liberal Studies, so nothing in particular! I think only SFU offers the program… mostly literature and philosophy.

Josiah: That’s awesome! What was the motivation to finish your degree then, even as things were heating up in your career?

Shad: I enjoyed it. And I still had time to do a term a year without much trouble. And I don’t like not finishing things.

Josiah: Good way to be! I myself am a college dropout.

Shad: So is Steve Jobs and Kanye West. You’re in good company.

Josiah: Hahaha! Actually, the College Dropout came out when I was entering my second semester, and I was listening to that and Animal Collective, who had this song like “youuuu don’t have to go to coolllleeeege.” Seemed like a divine intervention.

Shad: Ha! I was hating college when that Kanye record dropped but I was almost done.

I was still like, ‘good on ya’ tho.

Josiah: Also I remember there being a lot of typos in the liner notes of that CD, which had me thinking he maybe dropped out a bit too soon to at least learn about spell check.

Shad: Haha… I listened to it in the HMV the day it dropped at like the lowest moment of my undergrad career. Felt like divine intervention for real.

Josiah: What are some other formative records for you?

Shad: Hmm high school: Aquemeni, Resurrection/One Day It’ll All Make Sense, Stakes is High. Post high school: Say Anything Is A Real Boy, College Dropout, Lauryn Hill Unplugged, lots of others… I take that kind of question too seriously. Now I wanna make an exhaustive list.

Josiah: Of course, it’s not really a fair question. Also be careful with your mention of Say Anything — I have an ability to turn every conversation into a convo about pop-punk

Shad: Haha… I know very little about pop-punk but that album is unreal, and so unapologetically pop-punk.

Josiah: Hahaha totally. Do you have specific references in mind when you’re making your own music, or do you try to separate listening from creating, at least consciously?

Shad: I think I have references for most songs in terms… I don’t set out to emulate anyone, but when I’m making something and I’m in the middle of it, the references help me understand what I’m trying to do. For example, there’s a song on the album called “Y’all Know Me.” And I started with main guitar/bass licks and the lyrics and then realized what I was going for was like a MF Doom, Das EFX, D’Angelo hybrid. So we worked from those references to try and make it right. But we didn’t set out with those references in mind. That would be weird.

Josiah: That makes sense. You kind of tapped into what you were internally referencing without realizing it

Shad: Exactly

Josiah: Very cool. What about on a larger scale, did you have a set framework in mind for how you wanted the new record to sound, or did you piece it together song by song?

Shad: I had a sense of how I wanted it to feel, the things I wanted it to communicate emotionally, and I knew some of the themes I wanted to explore. Not exactly how I wanted it sound though… I think I always set out thinking I’m gonna make something that sounds pretty clean but that never really works out! But the result works for me.

Josiah: What do you mean by “clean”?

Shad: Like precise and polished. Like a Phoenix record or something 🙂

Josiah: Hahaha! I’d like to hear a Shad Phoenix record.

Shad: I already told my guys, next album no one is allowed in the studio without a tie and shirt tucked in. I’m gonna make a clean sounding album before I die (probably not).

Josiah: Hahaha. Aside from presumably not eating baguettes and wearing pastel oxford shirts with sweaters draped over your shoulders in the studio, what’s preventing you from making a clean record?

Shad: I’m just a dusty guy. My apartment is dusty. My room is messy. Perfectly ironed clothes get wrinkled as soon as I put them on. And I think I like dirty sounds too much at the end of the day.

Josiah: Man you are describing me to a T. I mean I am a slob who aspires to dress nicely and do clean-cut things but they come out messy. Some of my friends call me pigpen.

Shad: Yup, that’s me too. I don’t even think I fully understand how cleanliness works. How it occurs.

Josiah: I’m fortunate that my wife is the same way, so we can just enjoy our life in squalor rather than one of us being clean and feeling annoyed about it.

Shad: That’s huge.

Josiah: Hahaha yeah. Do you write a lot of lyrics before you get beats?

Shad: Yeah I do. I like having some lyrics in the bank.

Josiah: What’s that process like?

Shad: Depends on the song, but usually it will start with some lyrics or a concept for a song or more accurately I’ll have some lyrics in the bank and some song concepts I’m thinking about. Then at the same time I’m listening to beats from producers and digging up samples and chord progressions and working on building those into tracks and then usually I see where things fit together between those lyrics/song concepts and the musical ideas I’m building on. It’s messy (which seems to be a theme here), but it works.

Josiah: So it sounds like you’re very actively involved in piecing together the musical aspects as well.

Shad: Yeah for sure. I like to be involved. Especially when you’re piecing things together, I have to make sure the whole is communicating what I want it to.

Josiah: Totally. Do you get a lot of unsolicited beats?

Shad: Quite a bit, yeah. But I ended up making most of the stuff on this album really in the studio. The Bastid beats, we were working closely on those songs. And there’s a bunch of others song too that him, me, Ian Koiter, and other musicians built in the studio.

Josiah: Awesome. It definitely has a unified sound throughout, which is maybe harder to achieve with tons of different producers. Finally, before I let you go, I want to ask you about 2013 in rap music. What are you feeling and not feeling, and most importantly, what you think of Yeezus.

Shad: Ha! Yeezus ruled. First four tracks are blazing and the closer just proved he hasn’t lost his mind at all. He’s just the best.

Josiah: I fully agree. I think the little stabs of vintage Kanye, like in the first song, are amazing too. It’s like he’s trolling people who don’t get it.

Shad: Totally… it’s just pitch-perfect even though he’s never made an album like that before. The guy is too good at music. But yeah overall 2013 was a crazy year for rap. J Cole has a #1 album, Drake, Big Sean… Vic Mensa, Pusha T… Chance the Rapper, Bronson. I feel like there’s lots of guys really pushing themselves creatively and succeeding. It’s cool to see.

Josiah:  I agree. Where do you feel that you fit in with the rap zeitgeist?

Shad: I think what I do is pretty unique to me. I have my own sensibilities and strengths as a musician and my own ideas and experiences that I’m exploring. And I’m working hard too. I like to think I have my own little piece to offer.

Josiah:  Rad man. Well I think that’s a perfect place to end. Thanks so much for making the time? I mean ! Hahahaha accidental question mark seems so rude.

Shad:  Ha! Thank you!

This article originally appeared in the November 2013 Issue of AUX Magazine.

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Tags: Music, Cancon, Featured, Interviews, AUX Magazine November 2013, Shad






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