Arts

While not one of the biggest names in 21st century rap, Shad’s storytelling is legendary. Photo: Courtesy of Black Box Recordings.

Why you haven’t heard it

Before Drake made Canada a hip-hop powerhouse, Canadian rappers often had a hard time breaking through to mainstream audiences, even within the country. Although the scene went through a bit of a boom in the 2000s, it was still far from a major force in the Canadian music industry.

Toronto rapper Shad was one of the more successful rappers of this period, in terms of press coverage and national accolades, but he still went largely unnoticed on a national scale. His second album released in 2007, The Old Prince, didn’t generate any big radio hits like some of his contemporaries, so unless you’re an alternative hip-hop head, the album would have probably flown under your radar.

Why it might be tough to get through

The style of hip-hop that Shad explores on this album—a soulful, conscious sound similar to Common and Kanye’s early music—puts a lot of emphasis on lyricism, and Shad delivers in this regard, but the density of his raps can be a lot to handle. Plus, this sound isn’t exactly en vogue right now, so listeners who are more accustomed to modern hip-hop may take some time to get used to its old-fashioned aesthetic.

As well, the album may be hard to get into if you come at it from a hardcore or gangsta rap angle since Shad takes a relatively lighthearted approach to his subjects. Even the songs that deal with heavier themes—like loneliness and racial stereotyping—are punctuated with levity and playfulness, so listeners who like their hip-hop with more grit may not be satisfied.

Why you should listen to it anyway

Shad is one of the most charismatic and talented rappers working today, and The Old Prince is filled to the brim with entertaining and thought-provoking hip-hop. His storytelling is clear and vivid, but still full of personality and head-spinning rhyme schemes. His offbeat humour shines through on the album too, like when he spends a whole song defending his absurd—and borderline unhealthy—money-saving practices. True to its title, The Old Prince earns Shad a place among rap royalty.

Fun facts

  • Shad has earned both a business degree from Wilfrid Laurier University and a master’s degree in liberal studies from Simon Fraser University.
  • Shad briefly hosted the CBC Radio program Q following the dismissal of the previous host, Jian Ghomeshi.
  • In 2008, The Old Prince received a Juno nomination for Rap Recording of the Year and was shortlisted for the Polaris Prize, an annual award given to the year’s best Canadian album.

Best lines and songs

“I’m the biggest thing out of Canada ‘til Quebec separates.” (“Intro: Quest for Glory.”)

“No parka for me, not even gloves, scarves or a fleece/I may freeze but I’ll keep saving marvellously.” (“The Old Prince Still Lives at Home.”)

“Yo, this world’s so sick, like Ne-Yo’s hit/Or folks with no OHIP, don’t slip.” (“Now a Daze.”)