Black Box (October 5, 2010)
Review by Aidan Severs
Shad, full name Shadrach Kabango, is Canadian and is probably more known for his music in secular circles – neither fact should we hold against him. TSOL was released in 2010 and in 2011 it beat Drake’s Thank Me Later to win Canada’s Juno Award for Rap Recording of the Year – an award he’d previously been nominated for with his 2008 release The Old Prince.
For those bombarded by widely-available commercial rap, TSOL (the title is apparently ambiguous) is a refreshing listen. No swearing, positive content and poetically structured raps are the antithesis of the mainstream. Shad’s wordplay (“And I still got a lot of credit I still owe 9, But they charge no interest, so I pay no interest, Meaning I pay no mind” ) is clever and hugely entertaining although it sometimes seems impossible to follow his train of thought. Those more used to Christian Hip Hop, whilst all the above is true, may be left hungry for a bit more theological content.
On the first track proper, the upbeat ‘Rose Garden’, Shad raps “Those who have eyes should act like it, to help the sightless seeking the light switch, to see in the night with we leading the lifeless” after opening the song with reference to Abraham and Isaac. Although none of the tracks explicitly teach biblical truths the whole album is littered with references, and after a few listens a familiarity with Shad’s way of writing reveals more spiritual messages. Lyrically, as I have alluded to already, Shad shines. He doesn’t just rap as things would be said, he takes a more creative and poetic approach which leaves the listener thinking and wondering – these are no nursery rhymes. The production comes from a range of producers, all who contribute forward-thinking, tuneful, catchy beats with 90s Hip Hop running through their veins. Standout tracks are definitely ‘Rose Garden’, the melancholy ‘At The Same Time’, ‘A Good Name’ and for pure entertainment ‘Yaa Get It’.
TSOL doesn’t have many bad moments. Some might not like the more risque lyrics such as “Tryin’ to listen to Jesus is as hard as fake boobs“, “I’m livin’ on a nude beach, and everyone here’s in a two piece, while my soul’s bare, Boobies” and “But what they say is hard for a pimp is harder for a man of faith, Placed in an incubator full of hot babes, Heaven give me Grace like Will cause I’m not gay” but they all get important messages across in a memorable way. Despite ‘We Are The Ones’ having a fairly likeable hook and some skilful flows it’s difficult to understand and on an LP full of well-communicated thoughts and concepts it stands out as a low point. The only other incongruity is the production on ‘We, Myself and I’. The busy rock/rap formula (which isn’t a bad thing in itself) distracts the listener from very clever and insightful lyrics.
Shad intricately weaves popular culture and a biblical worldview with intelligent prose, perceptive thoughts and beats to make your head nod. TSOL is an album to enjoy, an album to pass on to a friend (who knows, it may sow a seed or spark a good conversation?), and an album to play again and again. I’ll certainly be doing all three of those.