Album Review: Shad—”Flying Colours”

By Kurt Grunsky

From the first notes of the majestic opening track, you can tell Canadian rapper Shad is going for something a little more grandiose with Flying Colours than on his previous efforts. It’s clever, really—he knows more people are watching him than ever, so he is taking advantage of it and putting out his most attention-grabbing album yet. Big-budget beats abound, some of which are more effective than others, Shad continues within the rap genre by tossing off shout-outs to everyone from Ice Cube to Common to Jay Z. Jay Z has a special place on this album when you consider that he is sampled on two separate tracks and Shad even claims, “I just might be Jay Z in my lifetime”. Clearly, Shad wants to be seen as something bigger, and “bigger” is certainly a word you could use to describe this album. But is bigger always better? To what degree is Shad sacrificing some of his older casual-guy insights in favour of this new “statement rap” mentality? Could he be trying too hard to please everyone?

The most telling cut to answer these questions is one of the best tracks, “Stylin’”, on which Shad constantly switches up his flow, rhyme schemes and subject matter. The obvious metaphor here is one of a man trying on several different styles of clothing, somehow managing to seem right at home in all of them. But while this all-over-the-map approach works well on “Stylin’”, its application to the rest of the album can make it feel a little scattered. “Fam Jam”, Shad’s celebration of immigration and people of colour, gives way to the sappy (but catchy) break-up number, “He Say She Say”. And the Drake-isms of “Dreams” do not seem to suit Shad very well, despite the reworking of the bass-line from Radiohead’s “All I Need”. His heavy-handedness seems more appropriate on the overtly political “Progress”, at least on its Kendrick-Lamar-esque first part before it dissolves into a somewhat bland alt-rock ending. There are also a couple forgettable tracks near the end of the album, though “Love Means” is redeemed by its fierce verse from Eternia, another Canadian rapper.

All these stylistic shifts are a bit disorienting, to say the least, which is part of what makes the last track, “Epilogue-Long Jawn”, sound so refreshing—it’s the closest thing to a return to Shad’s earlier days. In this track, the rapper is at his peak, effortlessly spouting wordplay and average-guy everyday-life wisdom. It can make you wish the rest of the album flowed as smoothly. So although Flying Colours is a fine display of versatility, its chameleon-like nature can make you wonder whether he is spreading himself a bit too thin.

Listen to: “Stylin’”, “Fam Jam”, “Epilogue-Long Jawn”

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