REVIEW: Shad – A Short Story About A War

It has been five long years of waiting for the return of the real Shad, one of Canada’s true hip-hop legends. Since the release of Flying Colours in 2013, Shad has kept himself busy as a host of CBC radio and Hip-Hop Evolution, but we all knew it was only a matter of time before he returned to his original craft. The question was: Who would Shad be when he finally re-emerged? A Short Story About A War is not simply a new Shad album, it’s a statement from an MC who has continued to move his art forward, even in his absence.

When I hit the play button on “Intro: Sniper” and heard those smooth keyboards and bass, I felt reassured. The rich, easy tone was almost too familiar though. I was concerned that maybe Shad was just going to settle into his old ways, a method that would yield an enjoyable album but wouldn’t stretch his boundaries. It took 31 seconds to shatter that possibility. When the dark, grinding synthesizers hit, they herald the start of Shad’s darkest, heaviest album yet. Shad has never shied away from challenging topics and deep emotion, but A Short Story About A War is the first time I have felt real tension and anger in his music. 

A Short Story About A War is a concept album which revolves around The Fool, a naive optimist who feels invincible in a world in conflict. Shad portrays factions that perpetuate violence to maintain power, those that resist their oppressors, those that encourage warfare for their own profit, and those that are merely trying to survive. The album is a serious turn for the normally lighthearted MC, but in classic Shad fashion, there’s nothing bleak about it. He has cleverly woven together a story that reflects many of the demons we are currently facing while emphasizing the people within this desert world who live for love, and will not be erased. 

The contrast between oppressors and the peaceful is clearly reflected in the music itself. The dichotomy found in the opening track is sustained throughout the album as we bounce back and forth between smooth, groovy, passionate tunes and tense, dark, inescapable soundscapes. The sheer depth of Shad’s beats has always been one of his strengths, and that is no different here. There is no better example than the textured vibe of “The Fool, Pt.3 (Frame of Mind)”, deftly put together by Kaytranada. Shad’s tongue-twisting lyricism is accented perfectly by the production details that are found up and down this record.

A Short Story About A War is an ambitious and triumphant return for Shad, and shouldn’t be overlooked by any music fan, whether you’re into hip-hop or not. I also had the chance to see him live in Ottawa for first time on this tour. I won’t go into any detail on the show, but it completely blew my mind. I can’t wait to do it all again when his next joint comes out.

~Dave

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