This world lends itself to cynicism. It’s very easy to be angry when you turn on the news, log on to Twitter, and even walk around your neighborhood (if you still go outside). One of the problems with all this is that once you become jaded, you grow irritated by the perpetually-positive people you encounter, the ones with that obnoxious smile Gorilla-glued to their faces. “There’s too much bad stuff going on to be that happy,” you say. “What’s wrong with them?” you wonder. In a way, Shad might be that perpetually-positive person in the hip-hop world. It turns some people off. Those who prefer their rap more aggressive may not want to sit through a Shad album. But, if you do sit through it, you’ll see that he’s not smiling because he’s naive to the world’s troubles. He’s very aware of his surroundings, and he’s consciously smiling in spite of that.
Flying Colours comes three years after his TSOL album put Shad on Canada’s radar. Since then, he has been showered with critical praise, awards, and even diplomas. He has grown considerably as an artist in the past three years, and Flying Colours reflects that. The album is more focused and yet more experimental at the same time. “Y’all Know Me” has a vintage D’Angelo feel to it, provided by Ebrahim’s crooning, but Shad contrasts the smooth vocals with MF DOOM-like punchlines, as well as heavy topics such as wealth and race.
Further along, we get “Stylin’,” which is Shad in a nutshell. The flow is laid-back and the wordplay is delivered in a way that feels so effortless you almost don’t appreciate what’s happening. In a recent interview with us, Shad touched on the lyrics referencing the fans who unknowingly insult him: “I got fans that say, ‘Oh hey Shad, I hate rap but I like you.’ Well I hate that, but I like you. At least, I like that you like me.” In stereotypical Canadian fashion, Shad handles it as politely as possible.
Aside from simply being good music, this is an album that can teach you to be a more appreciative person. This is not done in a preachy, KRS-One sort of way, but more of a “teach by doing” method. Records like “Remember to Remember,” which is accompanied by a great electro-pop chorus by Canadian chanteuse Lights, and “Thank You,” which is highlighted by a Jay Z sample from “Moment of Clarity,” find a man who, despite his worries and dark thoughts creeping in, manages to see the bigger picture and realizes his blessings. On the latter record, Shad raps, “I’m proud of my van and my Vancouver apartment. A proud man who went through hardships. Don’t say you can’t. You can do it regardless.”
The ironic thing about Flying Colours is that its merits are also its faults. While the positivity and perspective are welcomed, the listener is left with the desire to hear Shad delve a little deeper into those hardships and bring out some darker vibes. We get glimpses of this depth on “He Say, She Say” and “Dreams,” but the songs feel as though they’re being slightly held back. On the former, Shad paints the picture of a doomed relationship in which the woman is fed up with her aspiring rapper boyfriend suffering from Peter Pan syndrome. “I wanted to do a verse about how they worked it out, but…” the chorus says. The songs could benefit from a more extensive exploration.
Nonetheless, the crowning achievement of the album comes in the form of “Progress,” a two-part song that finds the rapper’s sound at its darkest. The song opens with a spoken word poem and is interpolated with a revised “American Pie” chorus. The 7-minute opus is backed by punishing keys and synths, a great atmosphere for, as Shad describes it, “the night the music died.” The song is such a strong departure from his normal sound, Shad even raps, “I don’t mean to speak this real but, like, damn. I don’t mean to sound depressed, but I am.” Prior to the shift in tone towards the end (the rock-infused part two), the listener is given the most sinister bars of the album:
And the night the music died, nobody investigated it
Just another one of us laying on the Vegas Strip
They closed the casket and the case up quick
Guess they figured it was gang related and never gave a shit
Flying Colours, ultimately, is a strong showing from an ever-maturing artist. While the majority of the songs on TSOL wrapped up at a short 3 minutes or less, most of the records here are flushed out and longer, with two clocking in at over 6 minutes. At a time in his life where one would imagine the Canadian MC would be least focused, given the fact that he had so much happening, we’re given his most concentrated album to date. The listener is left with the feeling that there’s still much to explore before the mic is eventually put away, but the bottom line is that Shad still has a lot to say and it’s all worth listening to.
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