On October 26, former Q host, and current Hip Hop Evolution host Shad released his fifth sixth studio album – his first in five years – titled A Short Story About a War. The sprawling concept album features guests in Lido Pimienta, Yukon Blonde, Eternia, Ian Kamau and Steven Mulcare and breaks down political standards as characters like The Sniper, The Stone Throwers and The Fool tell the story within Shad’s mind. This past October also saw Shad welcome a baby girl into the world and saw the release of season two of Hip-Hop Evolution.
You have your new record coming out and a tour coinciding with it. How does it feel to be back in the game?
I guess playing shows will be the real test. Going into the studio on a consistent basis was great and this record was a super fun project to work on – a nice creative challenge. I definitely haven’t been on the road in a long time. So that is something I haven’t done in four years. It’ll be revisiting an experience I haven’t had in a long time. I’m looking forward to that. I’ve played in the last few years, but it’s a very different thing to play one-offs and being on the road – everything from the traveling to being on stage every night. I also feel like it’s going to be a flip of the coin whether or not my performance level will be where I want it to be. When you go out on the road and you’re playing consistently, you’re practiced. It might not necessary be there, because you’re out of practice.
So now with your new baby girl, are you taking the family on the road as well?
We were planning this album release a little bit before I found out my wife was pregnant. We got that news; we planned the fall touring around that. There’s a lot of weekends or three or four days at a time so I’m not away from home for multiple weeks.
Judging from the track listings of the record – is this a concept record?
It is. Basically, the whole recording and everything is inspired by this story that occurred to me about five years ago and has just sort of stayed on my mind longer than expected. When it came time to work on a new album I kind of started working on a whole bunch of material, but the stuff I was writing about this story just felt the most meaningful to me and was coming together the easiest. That ended up being the project that I embarked on, A Short Story About a War. I’ve only had a couple of these in my life, where a story appears in my mind and right away I understand the meanings and parallels to our world and I really felt inspired in that way. To me, these characters really parallel situations and groups of people in our world.
You stated in your press release that these songs represent migration, politics and the human spirit. How do these themes tie into the songs?
So, I would explain it this way. There are specific songs about the characters, like the first song The Sniper, for example. That was a character I saw in my mind when I was envisioning this story. Right away I knew what the sniper represented. So, the sniper in a war scenario is higher up and because of their position they are hidden and they have a level of power and relative safety. I saw a parallel to our world to people that are higher up in our world metaphorically speaking, people with higher status, income and education are relatively safer and have an occupied position of power. At the same time, that can come with some complicated feelings of loneliness, alienation and about how you participate in the world as someone with a position of power and privilege. There are songs like that where I try to paint these different metaphors. The Stone Throwers are another one and a character called The Fool that is centre to the story in the most complicated way. It raises the most interesting questions. That’s how it plays out in the songs. Each song has their own character, and each song has its own story and metaphor.
It was great. Almost everyone that I worked with I have crossed paths with a bunch of times. I just admire them musically too. I thought it would not be easy for me to that on a project like this because it’s so real in my mind. I thought it would be hard to bring people into this, rather than a session with another artist where it’s a blank slate and you can talk about whatever we want to do. The ideas were so specific so working with people I knew already helped a lot with that. They were just happy to contribute to my idea and it was awesome. I love working with people and I don’t do it enough. I felt like a lot of my sessions were just me in there with an engineer chipping away at things. It just let the album breathe a little bit more, and some things I didn’t think of came out of it.
What was the experience like working on Hip Hop Evolution?
As an artist in that field, where you always into the history aspect of the genre or did that give you more appreciation for being part of a bigger movement? It has been an amazing experience. It was not an experience I ever thought that I’d get to have. It feels like a privilege and honour to be a part of the documentation of a culture that’s never been made before quite in this way. As far as learning, I’ve always been a huge fan of all music and I think when you’re a fan you become an amateur historian, but I still learnt a ton.
To cap things off: How did Q and becoming a new dad and doing Hip Hop Evolution – all these new experiences over the past few years – kind of impact where you’re at now?
It’s all been great. I feel like since the release of Flying Colours there has been a whole bunch of new experiences. Flying Colours was my fourth album, and I was doing school too, but I was making rap music and all those albums are in a similar vein of tracing my story as I move through life. They were my different ideas and experiences and I feel like since then it has been almost like starting again and being a learner again in a lot of ways. Everything from getting married and having a kid to hosting Q and Hip Hop Evolution and doing the Your Boy Tony Braxton record everything has been a new experience and a feeling of learning again, which has been cool.