The first thing Shadrach Kabango did when he found out his album, TSOL, had won a Juno Award for Best Rap Album of 2011? He laughed.
Kabango, otherwise known as Shad, was born in Kenya to Rwandan genocide-survivor parents who later moved to London, Ont. to raise him. Since then, he has released three studio albums, collaborated with artists such as Justin Nozuka, Dallas Green and Maestro, and received props from Kanye West. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Wilfrid Laurier University and began working on a master’s degree in liberal arts.
His story could be diminished to a nice and fuzzy one about rising against the odds by channelling his feelings of pain and powerlessness through art. But a quick listen to tracks like “A Story No One Told” and “Keep Shining” quickly have you realizing that this smart linguist has much more to offer than a feel-good success story.
Last Friday, Shad performed in Montreal at l’Astral. Decked out in his token plaid shirt, with an impressive cross and an African continent pendants hanging around his neck, Shad hit the stage to be greeted by a well-prepped crowd.
Toronto’s own Keys N Krates kicked things off, while DJ T-LO warmed up the audience with his clever twists and turns. Ian Koiter then dropped the bass and T-LO spun a familiar beat before Shad launched into a mind-blowing one hour set filled with jokes, jabs, spontaneous free-styles and perfect diction.
Speaking a few days before his Montreal show, Shad explained the challenge of headlining when asked whether he was anxious about kicking off the tour in hard-to-please Montreal. “It’s a bit of a different game when you’re headlining the tour,” he said. “You’re not trying to win over the audience in the same way. [â€¦] You always get a bit nervous but I think that’s just healthy; it means I respect my audience.”
Entrenched in Shad’s notions of respect and humility are his religious beliefs, which are subtlety woven into his lyrics.
“Faith often seems weird, or taboo,” he admitted, “But at the end of the day, I’m just trying to sort my own stuff out and find a way to better live my life. That’s what my tracks are about.”
As Shad’s performance winded down and hands flew in the air to the beat of his touching ode to women, “Keep Shining,” the irony of a teenage-male dominated audience is striking. He touched upon this while elaborating on his quiet criticism of our current academic structures.
“I think it’s especially hard for boys,” Shad explained. “Our society is ordered in this odd way that seems to have school and education mixed up. There have been questions about what it does to creativity, work ethic [â€¦] and to common sense. What I guess I’m trying to say is that, A: things have not always been this way. B: they’re not this way everywhere, and C: they’re not how they have to be.”
Is there then room for hip hop in our classrooms? “Absolutely, and I think it’s important to let kids know that what they’re listening to is smart,” said Shad. “It’s art, it’s real.”