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AAA Music | 19 February 2020

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Shad – Tsol

| On 27, Nov 2010

Despite our occasional dabblings in trip-hop, goth rockers are not known for our hip-hop knowledge. That said, I would like to think I keep an open mind, and on the merit of his latest release ‘Tsol’, I would like to say that the welcome mat will remain firmly in place for Shad and his intelligent hip-hop tracks.

In keeping with many a hip-hop tradition, there is a short instrumental intro to set the scene. A gentle piano melody blends with smooth hip-hop beats. And that’s how Shad does things: he’s very much master of his tracks, but he never attacks the listener. ‘Keep Shining’ is a silken yet off-kilter R&B tinged monologue. The synthesised instruments and backing vocals can grate at points, but the pro-feminist sentiment is a breath of fresh air in the scene, highlighting Shad’s gift of putting across a positive social message in a very palatable manner.

Weighing things down to earth with a much more substantial, steady beat, ‘Lucky 1s’ is a scathing yet measured indictment of conflict and racism, propelled by spaced-out keyboards and backing vocals. Held up by a solid funk beat and assured vocal flow, ‘A Good Name’ is a stellar assertion of identity. Everything is in measure; self-confidence and ambition is balanced with a healthy world respect and responsibility in the lyrics, and the beats are heavy without being aggressive, the electronic drones smooth yet edgy enough to catch the listener. Shad blends heritage and personal history with living present-day vitality, before the slow ambience of ‘We Are The Ones’ provides counterpoint to urgent flow and a mission statement of independence and pride.

Continuing the wonky-smooth feel, ‘Telephone’ is a funky rap track with warm bass and piano propping up a personal tale of a breakup. The track is standard enough, but once again it is in his fluid and poetic lyricism that Shad stands out. Ditto with ‘Listen’, another personal track – a heartfelt story of learning to listen to the world with an open mind and urging others to do the same. Shad waxes eloquence on the power of music and how it can heal, a sentiment I’m sure many can agree with.

Just in time to prevent the smoothness dragging into monotony, ‘Yaa I Get It’ is a lively firecracker of a track, with clattering beats, jarring harmonies in the electrics and Shad’s fiery defence of his own style and views with self-awareness and aplomb. This driving power returns to fly the flag in ‘We, Myself and I’ as cymbal rhythms and soaring strings contrasted with layered synths ensure the track is a bang and not a whimper.

In contrast, ‘At The Same Time’ has a much more melodic approach, with soul caresses in the piano, guitar and backing vocals while a soft hip-hop beat holds things together as Shad gets into his politically-aware stride; his voice never once breaking into aggression yet retaining a sharp and incisive expression of his deep insights. Bonus track ‘It’s About Time’ mirrors this, as social commentary and observations meet with richly constructed backing.

The outro is an a capella message direct to the listener, and a startling way to end, as Shad’s voice comes out alone yet speaking from the heart and the head.

It’s a refreshing breath of hope to encounter a rapper like Shad. Although musically his tracks tread little new ground and aren’t exactly the most interesting compositions, you can’t help but feel that this in fact is a good thing as it means the listener instead pays attention to the erudite, observant and well-written lyricism. In a market where rap artists are overly concerned with lush fantasies of money and notoriety, Shad steps up with bare-bones honesty and puts them all to shame. This is a real voice to listen out for in a sadly materialistic world, regardless of your musical stance.

Author: Katie H-Halinski