SHAD opening for COMMON at the Kool Haus (132 Queens Quay East), Wednesday (February 22), 9 pm. $34.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Flavor Flav wears a clock pendant, Slick has the eye patch, Nelly sticks with a band-aid on his cheek, and King Lou of the Dream Warriors probably still carries that big stick even when chillin' at the Scarborough Town Centre. For hiphop emcees, there's clearly no shame in the gimmicks game.
When Shad hauled out an acoustic guitar at the El Mocambo and started spitting his conscious rhymes over a percussive strum, it didn't come off like a jarring rock/rap hybrid bid. His six-string stage shtick is a natural fit, just like LL Cool J in a kangol. And judging by the enthusiastic response from the collegiate crowd packing the room tight that night, it's definitely working for him.
But the guitar wasn't always Shad's thing. Back when then Wilfrid Laurier University business administration student Shadrach Kabango was rhyming with the Bread and Water crew, there was no picking to be heard. And neither did it come up on either of the two tracks -- Get It Together and Melodic Stroll -- he cut with UK producer/DJ TM Juke for the Tru-Thoughts label. Evidently, he was saving the whole guitar thing for precisely the right moment, and by all accounts it was quite the coming-out party.
"I'd actually picked up the guitar in high school," says Shad before a flight to visit his family in Rwanda, "but I didn't immediately think of mixing it with hiphop. That happened much later and only because I didn't have any beats to rhyme over. I'd grab the guitar and mess around a bit, but that was always at home; it didn't occur to me to bring it onstage and perform with it.
"Then there was the Rhythm Of The Future unsigned talent competition put on by 91.5 FM The Beat, with a first prize of $17,500. The first round involved just submitting an artist bio and two songs, so anyone could enter, really. But by the final round all the acts were really good, so I knew I was going to have to do something special. For my final song, I pulled out the guitar, which the judges hadn't seen before, and I think that's what won it for me."
That huge chunk of cash went straight into recording and producing Shad's impressive self-released debut, When This Is Over, which shows off his smooth mid-school flow and narrative skills. Clearly, the money was well spent.
Yet even Shad admits the whole scenario behind its creation was sort of surreal.
"Everything about this, the nature of the competition, the crazy prize money, the whole deal is pretty unbelievable. Even after I won and I was already recording, I was still kinda worried about it. I told the guys running the studio, 'Really, these people are supposed to be forwarding you the money to pay the studio bill from the $17,500 I got from the radio contest.'
"And they'd say, 'You called in to some station and they gave you 17 grand? Yeah, right.'
"But The Beat came through and everything worked out."
The way When This Is Over is produced, you don't get an overwhelming sense of the guitar, yet it's something that's become a key component of Shad's performances. The guitar is now his hallmark, and that's likely the way it's going to stay.
"It's cool to pull it out, and people seem to respond well to it. When I'm feeling more energetic, I like to put it down and move around onstage, but it has definitely become a big part of my shows, for sure."
So far, Shad has no plans to add any showy Pete Townshend-style destruction routines to his set. His prize winnings won't cover nightly guitar repair and/or replacement costs.
"I haven't started breaking them yet, but it's something I could get into," he chuckles. "It might be fun. I just can't afford it right now. Maybe after I get a guitar endorsement deal."