Shad wsg We Are the City
Ladies Literary Club, Grand Rapids
Nov. 18, 8 p.m.
$10 public, $5 Calvin ID
calvin.edu/sao, (616) 526-6282
Shad's music contains a secret weapon as unlikely as his upbringing: heart. The rapper, who was born in Kenya and raised in Ontario, might never have had the chance to turn his hobby into a career if not for a talent competition held by a local radio station. Winning the competition allowed Shad to record a debut album in 2005 and since then, he has recorded three more full-length albums and won Rap Recording of the Year at the 2011 Juno Awards, beating out Drake.
"I started rapping for fun and eventually it became more than just fun," Shad said. "It became a way for me to express some more serious things, more profound things, and after some years building my skills and my audience, it eventually became what I do for a living."
London, Ontario was home to a very small but supportive rap scene where Shad learned to integrate influences from family life, the radio and his peers. His honest and occasionally self-deprecating style has been shaped by an unexpected mix of sources.
"My older sister and I loved whatever was on the radio and video shows," he said. "Two of my aunts lived with us growing up and they were musical. They introduced me to Simon and Garfunkel when I was 5, and I think that was the first band I ever liked."
His family continues to influence his music to this day. "I'll Never Understand," a song on Shad's 2005 debut When This is Over, represents his reflection on the Rwandan genocide his mother endured. His mother is featured in the song singing some of her own poetry. Although his albums, unlike many of his peers, are not crowded with guests, Shad recognizes the importance of including different viewpoints.
"Another perspective can add a lot to a song and definitely to an album — hip-hop albums especially, because there are so many lyrics, it can get weighed down by hearing so much of one voice," he said.
As far as freestyling is concerned, only concertgoers are fortunate enough to witness such an event.
"I don't freestyle much anymore," Shad said. "Only at shows and even then, only on occasion."