When indie rap mainstay Shad (born Shadrach Kabango) arrives at The Marquee this May 13, the triple-Juno-winner will have two set lists tucked in his back pocket. Attending a Shad show is always akin to taking a tour across the map of backpack rap, watching the ways that he’s resuscitated, sustained and expanded the genre over his 10-album-deep career—all while crafting addictive hits like “Rose Garden” and “The Old Prince”. But now, while touring his latest (2021’s TAO) the MC is ready to see what the post-pandemic live vibe is. “I feel like more than any other tour, I don't know where people are at and what sort of concert experience they want: Like, are they itching to just go crazy? Or are people in a contemplative kind of mood? Are they feeling the heaviness of these times and they want more of an intimate experience?,” he says, while speaking with The Coast by phone. “But you know, that's kind of exciting to get in front of people and get a sense of where they're at and what they want.”
TAO is the sort of album it feels like Kabango has been working towards since 2009’s When This Is Over—both in the common theme of being crushed by capitalism and the sharp edge to many of the beats. Where the new album differs, though, is in a penchant for almost grime-inspired production and lyrics that skew more dystopic think piece than one-liners about budget lyfe.
It also sees guest spots from the likes of The Sorority alum Phoenix Pagliacci and the Order of Canada-appointed poet Geroge Elliott Clarke. “He's just extemporaneously spitting poetry. It's really amazing to watch because his brain is full of all this amazing history,” Kabango says, talking with audible awe about his time with Clarke. “By the time we came to record, he had pages and pages and pages of poetry—and I just said: ‘Okay, just record it all and I’ll cut it up after.’ And that’s what we did.”
It’s the inspired collaborations and cohesive vision that, alongside fellow Canadian hip hop artist Cadence Weapon (whose pandemic-era album Parallel Worlds took home the Polaris Prize last year), makes Shad’s latest feels like a glimpse at the genre’s future. This is something that feels auspicious, given what a scholar of the genre he is (Kabango is the creator and host of Netflix docu-series Hip Hop Evolution). “I just think hip hop has reached that point now where it's kinda like nothing and everything,” he says. “And it's probably best if we thought about it in terms of sub-genres, the way that we started thinking about rock music at a certain point in terms of sub-genres.”
Until then, Kabango has the contingency plan to keep crowds moving and ears addicted: “I'm just used to sharing the music live and connecting with the community around my music. That's a crucial piece. And so I'm looking forward to being able to complete it in some way—it just feels like a necessary part in the process.”