From managing the care of his newly born daughter to releasing multiple projects, Shad is a force to be reckoned with. On October 26, he released his concept album, "A Short Story About a War." In addition to releasing new music, he has been taking his hosting duties to new heights with the arrival of season two of "Hip Hop Evolution", now streaming on Netflix.
We had the opportunity to catch up with Shad to talk about the development of Toronto's eclectic music scene, to his current projects.
Winslow: You’ve been a staple in the Toronto music scene since your first mixtape in 2005, remaining steady while the rap and hip hop scene in Toronto developed. What’s it been like navigating the scene, with new artists coming up and Toronto as a whole developing as a recognized incubator for talent?
Shad: It’s something that I think when I started putting out music, it didn’t seem possible that we would be on the map the way that we are now.
Hosting the series, Hip Hop Evolution, we go down to the states a lot to film a lot of pioneers and its interesting to see the reactions that we get when we say that we’re from Toronto now, versus when I first started touring in the states maybe 10 years ago. At that time, there was so much skepticism when you said you were from Toronto. I’m still getting used to this genuine interest and genuine intrigue about Toronto and what’s going on.
Winslow: There are now divisions in the Toronto music scene where there is the obvious top 40 Drake-effect, but there’s also a vibrant underground music scene. What are your thoughts on how these two channels have developed alongside each other in Toronto?
Shad: I think what Drake’s success has done has kind of opened up a sense of possibility, especially for younger artists, which is amazing - in terms of how they view themselves and their talent and their potential reach.
At the same time, Toronto has always had a vibrant music scene and I think that has just kinda continued the same on a local level.
Travelling so much to film this series, I’ve gotten a greater appreciation for how great of a music-city Toronto is. People are very savvy here and they appreciate a range of music.
Winslow: Talk to us about Hip-Hop Evolution on Netflix. What was like like filming and hosting this season?
Shad: It was awesome. It was something I couldn’t have contrived and was an opportunity that came across my plate. It’s been amazing talking to people, hearing their stories. The conversations we get to have are long, (they’re edited down for the series) but it’s a joy.
The people that put the series together do a fantastic job. I cant take credit for what they do. As biased as I am, I’m a fan of their work. It’s a fun, thorough watch.
Winslow: What can we expect going forward with the series?
Shad: I’d love to make more. There is a limit to how recent you can go and still be able to have enough perspective to have it be called a documentary about the history and the evolution of the music, but I think there are definitely still places to go in the series. Stories that can add to what we have already.
Winslow: Can you tell us about the process behind the creation of your new album?
Shad: There is a story that came to mind maybe 5 years ago, and then it stayed with me longer than I thought it would. Fast forward a few years and it was time to work on new music, and this story was still with me. I felt more relevant than ever. I embarked on this process of trying to make this story come alive in music. It was a really fun and creative challenge. It starts with this fictional world in my mind that to me, directly reflects ours. To try and weave in these fictional, imaginative elements, but then also describe the world we live in, in new terms for people was kind of a fun, creative challenge.
Winslow: This was developed as a concept album. How have you felt within the process of developing this as opposed to past albums?
Shad: Very different. With other albums in the past, especially my other rap albums, have been very rooted in my experience and my ideas and telling the story of where I’m at in my life and in my heart. That’s a very different thing than trying to articulate this vision and try and tell a story that I relate to certainly, but is not exactly the story of me.
It was very different but it’s important as I continue to make music to find new challenges and ways of keeping it fresh. For myself, and as a performer/entertainer, it’s important to give something new to people.
Winslow: What was it like working with names like Kaytranada and A Tribe Called Red and Yukon Blonde?
Shad: It was great. I love being able to bring people into the process. An album like this starts with my vision and exists within my own mind, but bringing other people into it, to me, adds so much and makes the whole project seem less claustrophobic. Other people can bring in things I couldn’t.
Kaytranada has a very distinct sound and soul and ability. Bringing his feel into the project was awesome. Tim from Tribe Called Red I’ve known for many years, to work with him again is great and felt really natural, and Lido from Yukon Blonde. These are all people I’ve crossed paths with a million times and I’d call friends. That helps with bringing them in to a vision like this that is a little bit out there and weird. It’s kinda nice to be able to bring that to friends as opposed to strangers. It feels a little less vulnerable.
Winslow: How do you choose the best of the best of songs when I’m sure there’s so many worthy candidates for the album?
Shad: I’m really focused on what needs to be present and I don’t have too much extra material for this project to be complete. Especially in a vision like this where it’s a story. Once the story has all the elements and characters and setting, it’s done. It’s never fun when you have to drown your kittens, or whatever horrible metaphor they use.
Winslow: How are you preparing for tour?
Shad: I will be mainly playing on weekends this fall so I can come back in the week and check in on family. I’m looking forward to playing consistently again and develop that routine and level of competence again as a live performer.
Winslow: Do you have any tips and tricks for people that are approaching this idea of heading out on the road for an extended period of time?
Shad: Have fun but understand that you’re doing a job. A lot of young artists get a high from playing the show and then go out and enjoy, but you have to do it the next day, and the day after that, so I think taking care of yourself is something that veteran performers pass on. Everything goes better if you do.