Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Shad - Flying Colours Review

 Before sitting down with Shad's Flying Colours, I've always been a half-assed fan. By that I mean I adored his music but never fully sat down with it, choosing to never take any of his albums in by full. So while Rose Garden and I Get Down are some of my favorite Hip-Hop songs of all-time, I never understood the context surrounding them on their respective albums TSOL and When This Is Over. With my recent adoration of anything and everything album-related I knew that when his 4th album dropped on October 15th, I was gonna be there too pick it up. What I wasn't expecting was a tour-De-force of lyrical ferocity and wit, a rapper so at terms with his own hunger and drive that no rapper, above or below him, can come close. Flying Colours forced me to take a step back and look at what Hip-Hop music is at its core; telling a message through the use of poetry. And that is exactly what Shad accomplishes.

The album's opener, Intro, begins without an introduction. Off the bat Shad rhymes as if he never stopped, as if the song is simply the next track in his discography. The beat, while muffled and filled on the first listen, slowly comes into its own on repeated ones. Its echoes of trumpets and colorful sounds places us directly into Shad's playful mind-state. And just as many feel safe to relax, Shad comes in with a verse so meaty and fast that any and all relaxation taken on the parts of many was quickly diminished. This is how many tracks on this album feel. It's as if any and all listens are in a constant state of influx, never content to ride the middle ground. At one point you're celebrating immigrants and their great successes on Fam Jam, in the next you're experiencing a long-term relationship fall apart at the seams on the heart-felt He Say, She Say, the spiritual successor to Shad's Out Of Love series.

This level of uneasiness is most drastically noticed on the back-to-back tracks, Stylin' and Progress. The former kicked off Shad's promotion of the album, being the first single, and features three impressively crafted verses detailing how better Shad is at rapping than any rapper out there. Pretty bland and unoriginal right? Shad is well aware of this, and as Saukrates chorus stumbles towards the end, Progress begins in stark contrast with Shad's re-telling of 'American Pie.' In the next 7(!) minutes, Shad relives the collapsing of Hip-Hop as a genre, relegating it short 4 minutes songs strictly for the output on the radio. It's painful song, and easily the album's centerpiece. Meant to reflect the song prior to it, and shine on a light on its easy enjoyment, this one is much harder to get into. It has no definitive beat, Shad's voice echoes across both channels, and just as the song is about to hit its climax it all falls apart into a beautifully sung ballad proclaiming that the future is here.

While Progress is the standout on the album, the greatness of the whole lie within the details. Dreams, much like Progress, discussing the overabundance of our generation, especially in relation to music. "This whole century is sensory overload," Shad proclaims on the track. It's one of the many underlying themes on Flying Colours that make this playful album on the outside relatively depressing deep down. The album's cover shows this as well, with bright blossomy colors grazing the foreground, while Shad's dark, non-descriptive shadow outlines the back. On Remember To Remember, Shad mixes relatively positive messages with those of bleak, stark contrast. This is something Shad's music has been known for, happily humorous music on the outside that's easy for the ear to take in, but concealed with protruding messages of violence, the failings of love, and a loss of hope.

Where Shad thrives however, amongst all this, is in his lyrics. Not only is he on top of his game, he crafts some of the best verses of the year. This is most easily recognizable during his third verse of Stylin' where everything he rhymes has a 3 letter acronym that ends the bar. It's a unique idea done to perfection and adds a new layer to his rhyme scheme never before seen. One of Shad's staples are also on prized show on Flying Colours and that's his clever lines and eye-opening bars. Almost every line revealed on the album closer Epilogue, a six minute track that features zero hooks, zero breakdowns or anything of the like, reeks of clever rhymes and even on my 30th listen I'll still be finding gems amongst all the gems. "You feel me I miss the scene, you feel me I miss the action/I miss touring, I miss america, I miss the pageant/I'm still married to that Dame, though the game is Mrs.Jackson to me." And "I'm Paul Wall in '05 and I'm car pollution and I'm James Harden hoopin'/All meaning I'm a problem Houston" are just some examples of these jaw-dropping lines scattered throughout not just this track, but all of them.

The production filling Flying Colours to its brim is also chalk full of memorable moments. The toned down African drums, trumpets and guitar strings encompassing Fam Jam bring back a time of joyous occasions experienced by those in the most of troubling times. Thank You also accomplished the task of bringing about a certain mood as high hats hit while a looped applause clap fills out the holes, meant to elicit an encore for Shad whilst on stage as he thanks his fans for everything they've done. Not all the tracks however land when it comes to production. Yall Know Me is much too slow, featuring simple guitar riffs and a maraca, that quickly brings the entire song to a bore. Shad's slow delivery on this, especially after having followed the intensity of the intro, only adds to the sense of boredom. Epilogue also suffers from an all too often made critique of rappers feeling they can rhyme on the same beat for six minutes straight without it becoming stale. The production on the track is nice, nothing too special but certainly enjoyable, but after a few listens of drawn out lines the beat becomes stagnant. A few switch ups, like were done on the Intro, would have made the closer more deliberate and re-playable than it currently is.

Still, with these critics intact, Flying Colours holds up incredible nicely to the top albums of the year so far. I was quite surprised to have love it so much, but in all honesty it's what I should have been expecting from Shad. The themes of sadness and coping with the inability to succeed, or the constant betrayals of being put down, lend well to the overarching coverage of happiness and color that dominants the foreground of this album. At the end of the day Shad's work in creating an enjoyable record that deals with tough discussions many wouldn't touch is what will lead me back to it. It's hard to be a 'conscious' rapper in today's age, with so many things changing in the industry, it's really a remarkable feat that a rapper hailing from Canada who seeks nothing more than to get his word out to succeed. The descriptions of Shad's music are truthfully accurate, they really do say his rhyming is "a constant mix or blacking out on tracks then bringing consciousness." And that's really what the rap world needs. 

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