Shad takes a serious, no-nonsense tone on new album ‘A Short Story About a War’. Gone are the much loved puns and the tongue-in-cheek references, replaced by a biting anger at the current system and its inequalities.
Canadian hip-hop star Shad’s life has been through nearly as many changes as the world has the last five years: Marriage, his first child being born, a trying stint as host of CBC’s flagship music show Q, a successful Netflix documentary — Hip Hop Evolution — and even an R&B album under the name Your Boy Tony Braxton. In short, the Old Prince grew up.
This is reflected on A Short Story About a War (released Oct 26, 2018 via Secret City Records) — Shad’s sixth album and first in five years — as it has a more serious vibe to it, with heavier beats and a more no-nonsense tone. Gone are the much loved puns and the tongue in cheek references, replaced by a biting anger at the current system and it’s inequalities. This new style suits him well, with his calm k-os inspired flow suiting the layered mayhem behind it.
A Short Story About a War – Shad
While his lyrics have always been socially conscious, this record sees Shad step into a new territory. The result of a recurring dream, A Short Story uses a variety of characters to tells the tale of a war-filled future. The three main voices in the album are that of the Sniper, who represents the fearful ones taught to take each other out to get to the top; the Stone Throwers, who represents the powerless; and the Fool, who’s criticized for his “naive” views of love and peace. Together, these narratives offer insight into the struggles created by today’s world. With all these layers, it’s an album that requires multiple listens to fully comprehend, but it’s certainly worth the effort.
Tracks such as “Magic” best demonstrate Shad’s creative shift: With a bass-heavy beat — which contrasts beautifully with the background singing of Canadian up-and-comer Lido Pimienta — he explains exactly how the powerful cheat the world’s minorities: “They steal, Then they take your memory of the theft, Magic.” He hits hard and deep with his lyrics: “Gone is our land, our language, our history. Ancestry, families vanish like it was magic. Gone is our greatness, our sacred places, and practices, suddenly we feel vacant. We saw them take it though. Our hands lift from the earth. The dirt, from the food removed, rezoned, reduced, reduced to…” Sonically stunning and lyrically heartbreaking, it’s a great example of what Shad was able to create with his 40-minute short story.
The album’s second track, “The Revolution/The Establishment” is another example of Shad’s new, story-driven direction, with the song been divided into two sections: The riotous ranting against war by a revolutionary, and the eerily-calm response of the establishment defending themselves: “All businesses strive to expand, Wars just provide us a chance to supply a demand.”
This theme of two wildly opposing sides are countered by “The Fool,” who across three songs — Pt 1 (Get it Got it Good), Pt 2 (Water), and Pt 3 (Frame of Mind) — shares a view of the world tempered by a hopefulness that appears naive in comparison to the rest of the album’s anger.
The album isn’t short of Canadian talent either, with Shad continuing his custom of throwing opportunities to his compatriots. While rockers Yukon Blonde close the album on the horn-filled song “All I Need”, Ian Kamau steals the show on “Another Year”, a song which takes the war from the streets and places into the head. Although it feels out of place — in terms of style and lyrics — it’s hard not to love due to its throwback Shad feel.
While A Short Story About a War feels like a departure in style for Shad, it’s a rewarding one with neither the Fool’s story — nor the richly layered beats — going to leave your head any time soon.
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📸 © Justin Broadbent
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