On Second Listen: Shad – The Old Prince

The quest for glory goes on as Shad‘s second album The Old Prince, from 2007, was re-released through iTunes June 30th this year. For someone following this relatively unknown Canadian rapper since 2005’s debut When This Is Over, this comes as a relief. It’s better later than never that the aging prince of the royal family of Canadian rappers and MC’s gets to steal a bit of the limelight from southern big brother USA — and also steal some global impact and media attention. The Canadian underground hip hop scene of the 2000s has worked on and presented the strongest alternative to the perverted and stereotypical world of drugs, money, guns and hoes that mislead North American youths, an alternative many may or may not have been lucky to come across.

It’s really a silent war of musical empirism versus the prevailing and conforming empire. A troop of Candian hip hop’s own Green Berets, have sported names like k-os, Kardinal Offishall, Cadence Weapon and K’naan, of whom all have had their fair share of attention of a wider mainstream nature. Now Shad’s second effort has become available to a whole generation that is more or less unaware of the physical world of music collecting beyond the digital world seen on their screens. And if there’s any album that has the chance to break out of the underground basements of Toronto, Montreal, Quebec or whatever Canadian urban area, it’s The Old Prince.

So good is it that this Juno Award nominated and Polaris Music Prize nominated album should be seen as one of the cornerstones and milestones of Canadian hip hop — the scene that Jon Azpiri of allmusic.com simply but truthfully called “the best-kept secret in hip hop”. So good is it that Shad should immediately be added to the list of trusted Canadian MC’s and rappers. It was apparent already on When This Is Over (which was financed with a considerable amount of money he won in a radio competition while in his undergraduate university years) that he had an incredible talent to master his tongue and mind to deliver stunning raps. For 2007’s The Old Prince not much had changed. It was just one notch better.

Shad’s socially aware and sympathetic lyrics and his street-smart contemplations are flawlessly delivered in an old-skool rhythmic swagger and inventive phrasing style over old-skoolish beats sounding surprisingly refreshing. The highly alternative samples, genuine arrangements and subtle productions frame Shad’s word-spitting voice nicely. The asset of being able to deliver both vocal and instrumental hooks in the same song is what makes The Old Prince such a sharp and, at the same time, a satisfactorily smooth listen, a dangerous, “secret” weapon for the Canadian hip hop.

If you ever heard nicer, innovative background harmonies in a hip hop song than “Now A Daze”, I’d like to hear them too. If you need to be convinced of Shad’s lyrical superiority and talent in delivery, I redirect you to the already renowned “The Old Prince Still Lives At Home”. The Fresh Prince-parodic video that was made may be fun in its own right, but mostly it steals the attention from the track itself that arguably highlights Shad’s MC genius. I mean, rappers love to guest each other and invite every star that is hot and burning at the moment to perform on their albums, right? Well let me put it this way: Shad is so hot he can be a gueststar on his own album anytime.

Obviously there’s no reason to hold you back any longer on a two-year-old landmark album in Canadian alternative hip hop — the hip hop scene that, to put it lightly and a little bit ironically, is slightly more likely to make lasting progress than its bigger trend-following/trend-setting American brother. Little brother always knows best. Nuff said, y’all biscuitheads.

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