Shad

Shad

Photo credit: David Morrison

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It was a cold and rainy day in Los Angeles when we met up with Canadian rapper and broadcaster Shad. He was wearing military grade socks, every new coat I’ve tried to buy this year has gotten lost in the mail and Ali was just happy that rain is not snow. 

Regardless, we soldiered on, and though we’d never done an interview before, our conversation with Shad felt like picking up where we left off, maybe because he does double duty like Ali does, telling his own story while helping other people share theirs. 

I’m talking about his hosting of Hip-Hop Evolution, a docuseries on Netflix based off interviews with the progenitors and the movers-and-shakers of the culture. The second season dropped in October and Ali himself shows up in the the third episode. 

So we got to talk about the experience of interviewing vs being interviewed and how talking to a ton of artists affects a person. But we were really there to talk about Shad’s newest album, A Short Story About a War, which we found satisfying and engrossing like a good book. It’s not background music, and it’s not gonna help you turn your brain off.

This causes us to lament the contemporary infrastructure of music that makes us wonder how A Short Story About War will be pushed to people, which people, and through which platforms. 

What Shad is saying is some cold truth, but he makes it easy to hear. 

Anyway, this was good for us, and we hope it’s good for you.

ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: What up, Shad?

SHAD: What's going on?

ALI: The tables are flipped.

SHAD: Exactly.

ALI: I still have not watched the episode.

FRANNIE KELLEY: The Tribe episode?

ALI: Of Hip-Hop Evolution.

FRANNIE: Are you in it?

ALI: But is it a full Tribe thing?

SHAD: No, no. You guys are in episode three.

ALI: OK.

FRANNIE: Of the first –

SHAD: Of second season.

ALI: Season two.

FRANNIE: Second season.

ALI: Yeah, I haven't watched any of it yet. I'm real terrible at catching up. I saw all of season one, and I thought it was an incredible series for hip-hop.

SHAD: Thank you.

ALI: I was really excited when you guys called me.

SHAD: It was great. We interviewed you that day and KRS-One.

ALI: Yeah.

FRANNIE: Wow. That's been a lot of travel for you, right?

SHAD: A lot of travel, especially – well, the first season was mainly focused on New York, right? The early days, the music was only in New York, so that was not that much travel. It was just trips to New York, a few trips to L.A. and that was basically it. But with the second season now. We went to Miami. We went to Houston. We went Oakland. So a lot more travel.

FRANNIE: I think what's so cool about it is you go to people's homes, and I think that makes the interviews really really different. To me it looked like people were really comfortable with you and appreciative that you had gone the distance.

SHAD: Well, that's kind of our goal with the series, is just to put our guest in a position where they can tell the story, tell their story, and make the story come alive. That's really the goal. So if people let us into their homes, that's fantastic. Sometimes people are more comfortable in their studio, or sometimes in a more neutral space. We're very very open to whatever. But yeah, I think it does make a little bit of a difference when you kind of – the person is – the guest is very comfortable.

But my thing is I love visiting different places. Like, we spent a week in Oakland for the Oakland episode and just, I'd never spent time in Oakland. And just to get the feel of, "Ah, OK, uh-huh, I can feel these different strands kind of braiding together of the funk and the political and all this stuff. OK. I actually feel like I understand it a little bit."

FRANNIE: It's funny. You are becoming a reporter, in a way. I mean, had you felt like that before when you were hosting Q?

SHAD: Kind of. I mean, well, to be honest, I don't really feel like I'm a reporter as much as like – I'm a curious person. And with Hip-Hop Evolution and same thing with Q, my mentality was just: the guest is the person that's going to tell the story. I'm there to sort of facilitate that. And then I'm a curious person, so it's endlessly interesting to me. It kind of feels like exams, but for a class that you really like.

FRANNIE: Totally.

SHAD: So you're cramming for sure, but it's good.

FRANNIE: What's the difference between being interviewed by somebody who is a musician and somebody who isn't?

SHAD: I never really thought about that, because as long as the curiosity's there and a sort of base level of knowledge, right? A base level of knowledge where I feel like and a curiosity where I feel like this person can follow what I'm saying. I don't feel like they need to be a musician or not, as long as they can engage with me. If the person has no interest in music, well then, I'm limited in what I can say, cause they're not going to follow.

ALI: I'm trying to think of how many interviews I've had and how many have actually been musicians. You were definitely the highlight and forefront that I can think of, I mean, outside of maybe Marley Marl.

FRANNIE: When did that happen?

ALI: Very long ago. I don't know. That was like, I don't know, Beats, Rhymes And Life maybe-era?

SHAD: What was that conversation like? That would be interesting to hear.

ALI: I really don't remember. I just remember being kind of like, "Oh my god." It's going to a museum almost in Marley's house. And he was broadcasting New York – one of the largest radio stations in New York from his home. So I just thought that that, on top of everything else that was going in his home, was pretty incredible. Like, he had the headphones where everybody can walk around his house and listen to what was going on wireless.

SHAD: Crazy.

ALI: It was just – it was trippy. And then being in a room where a lot of classic hip-hop songs were made, and you're looking in this room, this vocal booth, where he had refrigerated tapes of classics, it was just –

SHAD: Crazy.

ALI: I don't remember what the conversation was like. I was just bugging out like, "I'm in a museum right now."

SHAD: Crazy.

ALI: And he and his people were very cordial. I don't remember. That's one to go back on.

But I feel the same, that I don't really think about it in terms of musician and having a more comfort level of a musician interviewing. It's just you really want whomever you're speaking with to be informed, to at least understand who you are to a degree. They don't have to all the details of who you are and what you've done, but just, like you said, base knowledge.

But I do think that when it is a musician, there's some sort of – you understand one another's journey a little bit more, and so that may make the conversation flow differently.

FRANNIE: That's what I would assume. That it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing that somebody wasn't a musician, but that with somebody who understood the pressures and kind of those things that you can't put into words, that you would maybe feel a little bit more – be able to be more intimate kind of, or also just not worry about being misunderstood. Maybe it's not that big of a deal. I don't know.

ALI: I don't know.

SHAD: Do you play?

FRANNIE: I mean, I can read music and play the piano. But I don't feel like I could invent.

SHAD: Interesting.

ALI: I didn't know that.

FRANNIE: Really?

ALI: I'm like, "So you're saying I could've called on you to – I could've just gotten a chart together and been like, "Hey, Frannie, I can't find anybody. You think you want to come here and play this piano part for me.

FRANNIE: And what you're saying is that I could've had that revenue source this whole time. God dammit.

ALI: Interesting.

FRANNIE: We need to work on our communication.

ALI: I don't ask enough questions. I'm a bad journalist. But no, in all seriousness, we're really happy to be speaking with you.

SHAD: Thank you.

ALI: I know my first introduction on you was something I heard online.

SHAD: OK.

ALI: I don't remember which song it was and what I heard. I just remember loving what you were talking about and the feeling of it. And reaching out to you. That's it. My brain is funky.

SHAD: Dude. Yeah. Of course, I don't forget that.

FRANNIE: Right?

SHAD: I don't forget that. Yeah, that was amazing. When I went to interview, I didn't think that you had remembered. I thought it was a very kind gesture, but I didn't think that you had had remembered that. But yeah, I did not forget that.

ALI: What year was that?

SHAD: That might've been about five years ago. I don't know how you came across the music, maybe through Bastid, Skratch Bastid.

ALI: Maybe.

SHAD: Maybe through –

ALI: I don't remember how. I don't know if someone sent me a link or what it was.

FRANNIE: Do you remember what he tweeted or DMed or whatever?

SHAD: Yeah, of course I remember. It was something to the effect of like, "This is dope, and hip-hop is in kind of good hands" or something to that effect, which was beautiful to hear, coming from yourself especially.

And yeah, it's interesting to me because what I do I think, well, follows in the vein of the music, some of the music, that you made, but it's different. So I remember one thing I thought when I saw that was like, "Oh, that's cool, because it's not exactly the same as the music that you make. It's actually different, but there's something that you're hearing in it, the soul in it, that you're kind of vibing to." So yeah, I remember appreciating that.

ALI: Can we back a little bit for people who might not be so familiar with you as an artist. Where were you born and raised?

SHAD: So I was actually born in Kenya in East Africa. My family's from Rwanda, but I grew up in Canada, in London, Ontario, which is two hours from Toronto, two hours from Detroit, kind of in between the two. So yeah, that's where I grew up. That's where I started listening to the radio and music videos and all that, and started creating as well. But coming from a place like that, making music professionally wasn't something I thought was necessarily possible. But getting into the early 2000s or whatever, the capability to kind of make music independently was growing, so that's where I got my chance to kind of start.

ALI: What were you listening to, especially in that area of the world? What was –

SHAD: So what was I listening to? I was listening to anything I could listen to pretty much.

ALI: What does that mean?

SHAD: So whatever came on the radio. It's very mainstream, as you can imagine. Actually, my hometown is the most demographically regular place in Canada. They test products there, cause it's so –

FRANNIE: Regular?

SHAD: – regular. So it is very mainstream. We got all the sort of pop stations and everything. So a lot of that. Hip-hop, we had to get it from MuchMusic, which is our MTV. If you go to the States, then you would bring your VHS and you would tape.

ALI: Wow! For real?

SHAD: Yeah yeah yeah. So we had cousins in our hometown that had cousins in Chicago, and so at Christmas, we would go to my cousins house in London, and they had all the VHSs from Chicago and we'd watch everything.

ALI: That's crazy. You –

SHAD: That's how we had to hear most hip-hop, cause we got a half an hour a day in London, Ontario.

FRANNIE: Wow.

SHAD: Yeah. Of hip-hop.

ALI: I could see the video component, but I'm like, "What's wrong with the cassette?"

SHAD: Yeah, you could go – but you'd have to buy the cassette on nothing. You haven't heard anything.

FRANNIE: Based off nothing.

SHAD: You just go to – based on nothing.

FRANNIE: Yeah. Totally.

SHAD: Which you still did at that time.

FRANNIE: People don't – the kids don't understand.

SHAD: No.

FRANNIE: Yeah, that's funny. I was thinking about that on the drive over here. In this way that people say that streaming kind of devalued music, and what it does – it makes – cause we expect it will be free now or whatever, but it's really the ease with which we can access it makes us not spend a lot of time getting excited that this is now in our possession, and we're going to sit down and really be excited about it. But that's what it was. It was like, "This is $17, and I might be making a huge mistake." I mean, I guess that was a CD back then.

SHAD: Seventeen dollars is a serious amount of money too when you're like 11 years old.

FRANNIE: Yeah!

ALI: Oh, of course.

SHAD: It's a very very serious amount of money. But also I kind of miss this relationship to music, being ten years old or whatever and seeing "Award Tour" on the – and being like, "Wow! This is cool. I don't know why, but I'm going to go buy it." Do you know what I mean? And that sort of relationship to music too, that I think that you just don't necessarily have so much anymore, but –

FRANNIE: There's a mystique.

SHAD: There's a mystique. And there's stuff to dig into and learn that you can't learn so easily. So.

ALI: So when you have that sort of a range, getting your music VHS taped, videotaped on VHS, what are some of the songs of that time that really made an impression on you?

SHAD: I'd have to say some of the stuff that really made an impression on me – like, I remember being in high school, 14, 15, and seeing the "Retrospect For Life" video with Common and Lauryn Hill and going, "Oh, wow. I didn't know you could do that in a song. I didn't know you could talk about something so personal or whatever in a song." So there were certain moments like that where I'm like, "Wow. There's a whole other level to music."

Cause I grew up just pop radio everything. "Black Or White" video debuts. You're like, "Wow! They went everywhere!" or something, and Tyra Banks has just made her face change into somebody else. But then you're like, "Oh, OK." Then you suddenly encounter music that has this level of depth to it that you're at certain age where you can actually grasp it a little bit more too. So that left an impression.

OutKast left a huge impression. Tribe left a huge impression. I remember hearing De La Soul on "Stakes Is High" and hearing some of the wordplay for the first time going, "Wow. You can do that with lyrics? That's crazy." Ras Kass was another one that I remember just putting in the CD and just being like, "I didn't know people did that, went to that level with stuff." I think that's what really captured me.

FRANNIE: Are you able to remember what you thought was possible before you heard this? You know what I mean? What was happening in the music where you were like, "Oh, that broke this rule?"

SHAD: OK. I can think of Nas, "The World Is Yours," and just going – I didn't know anything about sampling, so I was just like, "I don't know how somebody made this piece of music." And then because it's jazz, it's so complicated emotionally. I was like, "Wow. This is, like" – and it's jagged, because it's chopped up. It's like, "I don't understand how someone could make this kind of complex emotion, and then it's layered with this poetry." And I'm like, "This is making – this gives me goosebumps. I don't understand anything about how this was put together." So yeah, stuff like that left an impression and made me think, "Oh, wow. This can go to a whole other level."

And then in terms of the lyrics, like, that level of personal self-expression I think really captured me too. That was I think a big deal. Common was a big one for me, where I said, "Wow. Somebody can reveal so much of themself and reveal their uniqueness and paint of picture of a unique human being." And then of course the added layer of a human being that looks like me, yeah, that was pretty powerful.

FRANNIE: I was just thinking that most of the people you just mentioned, the way that they speak is very similar to the way that they record and perform. There isn't a big gap between, and that you do that too.

SHAD: Yeah, totally. I remember when I started I tried to have a rap name.

ALI: Like what?

SHAD: I tried Catfish. I don't know why I tried Catfish. My try –

FRANNIE: My favorite part – moment of Hip-Hop Evolution was when Bun B reveals that his first name was Shadowstorm.

SHAD: Yeah, and I tried to kind of encourage him in it. He was like, "No, dude. It's OK. It was bad."

FRANNIE: Please continue. I'm so sorry.

SHAD: No, I mean, I tried to have a rap name, but yeah, you're right. That was – the voice that came out naturally for me as an artist was kind of this version of myself that's just a little bit more entertaining maybe, a little bit more playful, a little bit more something, of a performer, but it was essentially me.

FRANNIE: Right. It doesn't go into character territory.

SHAD: It doesn't exactly go into character territory. It's very much a spin on me, and not even a spin on me, a version of me.

ALI: Were you very clear from just the very beginning when you started to record of the journey that you wanted, the goals that you wanted to hit in terms of being – creating art?

SHAD: Yeah, I think pretty early I had a sense of what my voice was, what my way of entertaining was. I think I had a sense pretty early, which is sort of down-to-earth but that sort of gets used as an element of surprise. Because I'm going to present like me, but I'm going to be – it's going to be funny and clever, and it's going to be entertaining. I think I always had a sense of that from the beginning. Freestyling with friends or whatever, I always had the style of like, "I don't really want to rap, but yo, I guess, I guess, and then just, but really I have something that I've been working on forever." So yeah, I think I always had a sense of that.

ALI: Do you still freestyle?

SHAD: I don't.

ALI: You don't.

SHAD: I don't. You know how it is. You fall out of practice. And then there's this whole world of battle rap that exists now. I don't know if you guys have seen that, but it's like, if you're not doing that 24/7, you cannot even go in the ring anymore. It used to be that you're working on making your own music, but also you're freestyling, and so you can hold your own. But now unless you're freestyling 24/7, you don't even want to really get in the ring.

But also then freestyling was all that was possible. When I was in high school, that's all that was possible. You couldn't actually record music. That's another thing that I think a younger generation can't understand. In my hometown of maybe half a million, there was probably two people with a sampler.

ALI: Wow.

SHAD: Right? Realistically. And then records? Good records? There's probably two people with the capacity to make a beat.

ALI: And with those sort of constraints you still found your way to making some dope stuff.

SHAD: Thank you.

ALI: So what was the drive?

SHAD: The drive for me was I discovered at a certain point that this is what I cared about doing, was just telling my stories and making stuff up. You said that you don't feel like you can invent. I always felt like that's the only thing I can do, is invent. So that kind of grabbed me at a point. As I was saying, it was a point that kind of converged with the technology a bit where it was a little bit easier for somebody to try and make some things on their own.

So yeah, I remember resolving to do that. I was in school. I was getting an education, but I remember feeling like, "I need to try and do this, because this is truly what I care about and where I feel like I can make a contribution."

ALI: To go to your current album, A Short Story About War, it sounds very – obviously very deliberate, and done so with a great sense of responsibility and care, concern. What drove you to making an album like that?

SHAD: Well, one thing – OK. So the first thing that drove me to make it is I did just get this image in my mind, this story in my mind, of this war scenario and all these characters. It all just appeared very quickly and felt inspired to me, but I still didn't think I'd turn it into an album. But the story stayed with me for years and became this lens through which I was seeing the world. I was like, "Wow. There is a lot of violence of different sorts in our world and different ways to participate in that violence, and the challenge of disarming yourself is actually really difficult in that sort of world and that environment."

So the story stayed with me, and then when it was time – felt like it was time to work on an album, I thought it would be a nice creative challenge to try to make the story come alive. That's just a thing that drives me now, especially when it comes to making music. I love a good challenge. I love a good creative challenge. So yeah, the story felt inspired and felt meaningful, and then also the project of trying to bring it to life felt exciting to me.

ALI: Did you have a particular listener in mind or were you just really driven by your own spirit on it?

SHAD: Yeah, I was kind of driven by just trying to make this vision come alive in a way that felt exciting to me, because in the current landscape of music, it's kind of difficult to have a sense of who your listener might be, I find, especially the way that people listen to music now too. I was like, "I actually don't have much of a clue." But I do have a sense for me of what feels exciting and what feels purposeful and meaningful. So that's all I felt I could follow. It's kind of mayhem out there.

ALI: It's not kind of. It is mayhem out there, and there's a different type, especially because right now it doesn't – go back to maybe ten years or 18 years where it seemed like the conversation of war was so in our face, and right now it isn't, but it's still prevalent. And just the way that you talk about the different types of war, I'm just wondering how is that digested now, especially after going through something that was kind of in our face every day but it's no longer in our face, but the designs of it is there. We might not see or feel it directly if we're just going through the day-to-day with our heads down, but I was just wondering how do you feel after getting that out there? It's like, "Now what happens?" So what is that like?

SHAD: The saving grace for me is playing live, cause then it suddenly makes sense again. You're just in front of people, and you can see how the music touches them, and you can talk to them about how the music touches them, and it all just makes – it's like, "Oh, yeah. That's what we're doing." And so that really feels like the saving grave to me, because otherwise –

And frankly conversations like this where, "Ah, OK. People are interested. People care about music, and they care about ideas, and OK, cool. We can have a conversation about it." Because especially a project like this to me, I feel like the conversation is kind of the point. It is a dense album. It's a little bit of a challenging listen. But the point of it is I think just to think about how we participate in the world and the possibility of peace and all the different kinds of violence that exist. And yeah, I feel like that's kind of the point, is kind of the conversation.

So those things make sense for me. As far as kind of getting it off my chest, yeah, it feels good. It feels good. Because as I was saying, the story's been with me for a while. And I think it will stay with me, but there is something about making music that is – it is exorcising something. It is getting it out in a way that feels important. That's part of that inventiveness thing too I think, is just I need to get this out. Then I can move on.

FRANNIE: When I was thinking about how we value music, and I was thinking about how people are going to listen to the album. Like, where? How much time are they going to spend? Cause it's almost like a book.

SHAD: Yeah.

ALI: Yeah.

FRANNIE: I just finished reading an N.K. Jemisin book, and it's – your project is not sci-fi, but it's a world that is closely related to ours, but you gotta fictionalize. So how do you then deal with that in a performance environment? Cause you're not going to just play it through.

SHAD: Totally. When I play it live, I play a few songs from the album, mix it with the old stuff. I still want to put on an entertaining, engaging show, and I don't want to disappoint people that want to hear the back catalog. But the nice thing is a live show does allow me to introduce some of these songs to people too in a way that's a little bit more digestible.

But the other the thing I'm kind of happy for is with social media now – so I've been posting on Instagram – I can write about each song. And so that's actually kind of nice. I can kind of help people along that way. The day before the album came out I posted a big thing being like, "Listen. Take your time with the album."

FRANNIE: Yeah, I saw that.

SHAD: You can do that. You can do that now, which is cool. So I'm trying as much as I can to kind of help people digest it. Because I understand. The climate now is very different. It's not like what we were talking about before with the $17.99 and the investment in this thing, but on the other side, there is ways that didn't exist before to help people in to your music.

FRANNIE: Yeah, that makes sense to me.

ALI: Never thought about that.

FRANNIE: Did you think about – cause I was just playing it in my car where it sounded really good –

SHAD: Cool.

FRANNIE: – and was that ever – how much of sort of making it be compelling or exciting or entertaining or whatever – how much are you trying to get people to listen to you by giving them –

SHAD: Yeah, that was a big part of it, is sonically I hope that this is an exciting listen.

FRANNIE: It feels very alive.

SHAD: Yeah, I really tried to do that. That was part of the creative challenge to me that felt interesting, is how can I make it come alive sonically? Cause that's a cool new frontier for music, is sonically all the stuff that you can do, so – not that I know a ton about that, but I could at least work with engineers and try and push it in that direction. But then somebody else is going to play it on their laptop, and it's just whatever 

ALI: It's true.

SHAD: You know what I mean? You're like, "I don't know. I'm working really hard here, but who knows."

ALI: So true.

SHAD: I interviewed once on Q Noel Gallagher from Oasis, and he was like telling me the story about how he came home one day and his daughter was like, "Where were you?" And he was like, "I was at a meeting about the album art." And she's like, "What's album art?" And he's like – he was trying to explain – like, "You get a graphic designer, an artist, to make the cover art." She was like, "Oh! The little square."

ALI: The little square.

SHAD: And he was like - 

ALI: "Yeah.”

SHAD: "Yeah." It's officially –

ALI: Going to go with that.

SHAD: – the little square.

ALI: It's the little square. Well, speaking with album art, how come there's only one dead person – I don't know if that person is dead. And I'm – this is my interpretation of the cover, that there's one dead person in a desert.

SHAD: Yeah.

ALI: Was the cover to your vision?

SHAD: Yeah, it was. There was something I liked about it. It was kind of the loneliness and this desert world, and then this – the ambiguity of this person looks dead. I think they're dead. I'm not sure if they're dead. I liked that part of it. And just when I saw it, I was like, "I think the album feels like this a little bit, kind of dangerous but lonely." I was like, "I think the album feels like that."

ALI: It's a cool cover, but I was really trying – I was –

SHAD: You thought it would be more chaotic.

ALI: No! I didn't have any preconceived thoughts of it. I'm really into album art. And especially because the content, it's really a powerful album, and there's just a lot. And I'm speaking as a 48-year-old who's seen a few things and just imagining if I got this at 19, what would that really feel like? Cause these kids already – I think the way that they perceive life as if they're 99 years old.

I was just reading an article of Willow Smith, and I had no idea what she was going through at the time she made the "Whip My Hair," but she briefly went into the challenges, and so when you have that kind of heaviness and unawareness of certain things in life, but when you're that young, you know a few things. You may not know everything, but you know enough. And I'm just wondering how would they hear that and what does that look like.

And looking at the cover, I tried to put, I guess, a positive spin on it. Like, maybe that's just a tree bark. It's not a person. You know? It's all these things you do to try and make like, "Life is OK. It really is OK." And you see the smoke. It's like, it's going down. Are you really going to continue to ignore that? And how do you place yourself? Is this survival? Are you running away? Are you running to it to help?

SHAD: That's cool.

ALI: It was just so many different things, and so I like the album artwork because there's a serene-ness to it. And that's, I think, the paradox that we actually live in and what you're talking about.

SHAD: Absolutely. Yeah. No, I appreciate that. That is to me the central question in the album, is if we were to disarm ourselves, so to speak, live with more love and openness, would we be killed or would be free? So yeah, I appreciate that. And I also always think about exactly that thing, if somebody was 18 or 17 listening to this. Not from a standpoint of like, is this kind of modern or contemporary enough? But would it move me in the way that hearing Aquemini moved me? Would it inspire me in that way or not? Would it make me pause and go, "Wow," again, "there's deeper levels to music that I didn't even know about," or not?

ALI: Did you ever have a moment while making this album, and even some of your others, where you felt like, "This might be too much, and I need to stop and question whether this is the actual painting that I want to make?"

SHAD: Yeah, definitely. There's one thing I hear in almost all my albums, which is this thing of – I hate to use the word distrust, but kind of distrust. And by that I mean, I hold onto it all pretty tightly, and I think that's one way I can grow as an artist, is just sort of let go a little bit more, get some more input as to like, is this really communicating what I want it to as clearly as possible? Should I cut some things out? Should I – because I get pretty deep into the lyrics and into all the details of what this thing is in the end.

So yeah, so sometimes – I do have to zoom in and zoom out and go, "Is this too much?" But I still don't know. I'm still too in it. I really try to get perspective, but there's only so much perspective you can get on your own. Rap is a little bit interesting that way, in that we don't have producers the way rock music does or pop music does, where there is actually a person who's whole job is to have perspective on what you're making.

ALI: Yeah. It's a good point. Is that why it takes you awhile to make albums?

SHAD: I think so. I think so, cause all that zooming in and zooming out and trying to get perspective that I can't possibly actually get on my own, but then always the cut off point for me is when I feel like I can't work any harder on this. That's when I go, "OK." There's no way I can make this better. It's definitely only going to get worse.

FRANNIE: That is an incredibly important thing to know about yourself.

SHAD: You have to. You have to.

FRANNIE: When you said "too much" earlier, did you have something in mind? Were you thinking too many things happening?

ALI: So what I meant was "too much" meaning when you are very aware of things in life in general –

FRANNIE: I see.

ALI: – and you know it, but you don't want to know it, but you know it. And it's kind of to the point where it's unavoidable. You have to deal with it, but you're still at that like, "It's just not – it's too much."

FRANNIE: It's like, "Pick one thing and do that."

ALI: "Can I go over here right now, cause thank you for reminding me, even though, OK, maybe I didn't know that, but maybe I did know that." And you have to make a choice to be responsible or not and to be – are you participating? Are you a proponent of peace or are you a proponent of war? Are you proponent of love or are you a proponent of anti-love?

And I think we all get faced with that in different areas in life. You could just be driving and someone just cuts you off, and now you're supposed to be this all loving, kind person, but instantly, without skipping a beat, your levels just get pushed. So just that's what I meant in terms of too much.

SHAD: Yeah, I've said this before, but it's kind of like, this isn't really the album I wanted to make. I wanted to make – I wanted to be that guy that makes everyone feel good right now. But this just felt like what I had to say and felt like as positive as I am as a person, this is my most honest view of the world. This is actually how I think the world is, if I'm perfectly honest. I think that there's a lot of violence, and I think that peace is really difficult and kind of worth thinking about and worth working really hard for every day. But it's not the message that I want to have.

I want to – when I started working on this, I was just playing Bill Withers in the house all day long. Cause I was like, "That's what I want. I want to – how do you make 'Lean On Me?'" I was like, "How do you make 'Lean On Me?' That's what I want to make right now." 

FRANNIE: Have you ever asked him?

SHAD: No. I don't know. What do you think his answer would be? I feel like it would be such an unsatisfying answer.

ALI: Probably.

SHAD: You know what I mean?

FRANNIE: Have you watched that doc?

SHAD: Still Bill?

FRANNIE: Still Bill.

SHAD: I don't think I've seen it. No.

FRANNIE: Oh, man. I highly recommend it, and I feel like you get a little bit closer to maybe anticipating his answer to that question. I mean, I think he's just like, "Stop." It's kind of what you're saying about too much. It's like, "Only do the one thing."

SHAD: Yeah.

FRANNIE: Just don't fuck with it. I mean, you're going to cry like a baby.

SHAD: Yeah.

FRANNIE: It was one of the best things I've seen all year. But your career's really interesting, because you do the thing, and then you talk to other people who do the thing, and then you go back and do the thing. And – I mean, I guess I'm kind of wondering how do you use what you learn from other people? It's also kind of like exercise, right?

SHAD: Mhmm. Well, the cool thing for me – I don't think I learn anything practically speaking, but what I feel like I get is a sense of different kinds of talent and greatness. So for example, like I was saying, the day that we interviewed you, Ali, we interviewed KRS-One. And it's like, two very different energies, but to me that's very inspiring, to go, "OK. There's this sort of talent and sensitivity and intelligence that can produce great music, and then there's this sort of power and charisma that also produces great music." And just to be around that and go, "OK. Yeah." I don't know. It helps me think about, well, what do I have to offer?

FRANNIE: Totally. All the options.

SHAD: So it's helpful and inspiring, just maybe not in the ways that people think. Cause people might think that I picked your brain about Low End Theory and then went and did that. That's not really what it is. It's kind of on another level of just thinking about, I guess, humanity and talent and what different people have to offer.

FRANNIE: That's definitely what I get out of my job, all the time. That's why it's the best – these are the best hours of my days.

SHAD: Mhmm. Yeah. I find that fascinating.

ALI: Is there anyone that sticks out, that you walked away from in an interview really like, "Wow," and whatever it was you learned in the front of your mind right now, it's still with you? It's to both of you.

FRANNIE: MJG. Easily. I interviewed him in Memphis in I guess 2013. I was doing this "20 Years After 1993" project for Morning Edition. I mean, there were a lot of things that changed my mind about how journalism could interact with musicians, because he was very like, "You need to come to Orange Mound with me. We're not going to do this thing" – we didn't end up going, but for – whatever. But we basically – I think we had a drink, and then we did the interview, and then later he thanked me and Brianna who was with me – he put together a barbecue for us. He cooked for us.

And the whole time he was telling me his story. Every moment was him trying to get me to see who he was. And in particular, it was his insistence that you couldn't separate him from where he grew up and all these other people. There wasn't anything that he said about Tony Draper that changed my reporting exactly, but it was the way he felt about things.

And then because – because what he was talking about – in Memphis, everybody's a musician and what they were sampling, and they took the records to Houston to actually sort of do the work, and what he was talking about was this intergenerational connection. But the way that he did it, it wasn't about, "We did this thing to remind people of this thing or to put people on to this thing," it was like, "This is what we wanted to do. This is what we liked. This is what we cared about."

And he was just, like, an incredibly nice guy, while not ever for one moment not being MJG. You know what I mean?

SHAD: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

FRANNIE: Full grill the whole time. Hero, legend, everybody stopping to greet him and – yeah 

SHAD: The oddest things sometimes stand out for me. There's one time we were interviewing Angie Martinez, and that was when I suddenly realized that hip-hop – cause we'd been everywhere. That was the first time I realized, at some point, and she was just talking, and I was like, "Oh, hip-hop is New York culture." Cause you go everywhere, and hip-hop is so everywhere now that you're like, "Yeah, they have hip-hop in Atlanta or whatever." It's like, "No, no, no. Hip-hop is New York culture."

There's something in just how she was talking, who she was. I was like, "There's no other culture for you. This is what you know. This is your culture." And that was a – it was weird to think about that for the first time. I don't know. Maybe that's just being from Canada and yeah, I make rap music. We love hip-hop culture, but we're – everywhere else it's become part of the culture. That was the first time I was like, "Oh, hip-hop is New York culture." If you're a certain age from certain a part of New York, that's what you know. That's how you move. That's your style. That's everything. It was weird.

I love moments like that where something just clicks.

ALI: Yeah, that's a big one.

FRANNIE: Yeah. I'm going to be stuck in that for a little bit, I think.

ALI: Yeah, especially cause for me, at least you saying that, I just saw an episode – I think it was the last Anthony Bourdain episode, which was on New York, the Lower East Side.

FRANNIE: The Lower East Side.

ALI: And so you're saying that, and all these visions from that episode are just popping into my head, and a whole bunch of other hip-hop images.

SHAD: It's weird, cause we're chronicling it with this series. And we go to Miami, and it's like, there's Luke and blah blah blah. So we're actually telling that story, but that was the moment where I was like, "Oh! No, no. Yeah. OK. I really get it. I really get it in a way I've never got it before." I knew hip-hop was born in New York blah blah blah. But it's like, "No, no, no. It is New York. This is what New York feels like, is like, is hip-hop." And people of a certain generation, that's their culture.

ALI: Yeah. Have you come across any other Kenyan artists or the community of – I don't know. Is it Kenyan-Canadians? Or Kenyan-Americans who really rally behind you and - 

SHAD: Yeah. Well, the interesting thing – so in Canada, we have these big diasporic communities, like African-Canadian, and so I think of artists like K'Naan for example. K'Naan, myself, we're some of the first African-Canadian that tell the story of our experience coming from – and now there's a new generation that has kind of a new African-Canadian story, but we're kind of the first.

And there's all sorts of interesting cultural stuff with that, cause my family's from Rwanda, and Rwanda, it's – well, there actually is a tradition that's a lot like freestyling. They love cows in Rwanda, and there's this kind of style of poetry where you brag about your cows. It's ancient though. It's like thousands of years old. 

FRANNIE: It's like the dozens but with cows – but make it cows.

SHAD: Yeah, it's like jiggy but with cows. It's kind of dope. But anyways, the big tradition there is dance actually, so culturally I think it's actually very new for a lot of Rwandans to hear someone really express themselves in really a more Western kind of way.

FRANNIE: Like an individualistic kind of way?

SHAD: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. So it's actually fairly new, but there's poetry, because this tradition has always existed there. Poetry – they like poetry in Rwanda.

ALI: Sorry. I said Kenya. Must have been trippin -

SHAD: It's all good. I was born in Kenya.

ALI: Oh, OK.

SHAD: But yeah, I guess there's a couple things then that are interesting to me is this thing of new cultural identities. Cause also African immigration to Canada is relatively new. It started in maybe the '70s or '80s. So African-Canadian is a new thing for us. So artists like myself, like K'Naan, that's a whole new cultural identity that we're sharing and telling the world about.

And then the connection to Rwanda's also interesting, because it's new for them too in a different way. This whole idea of just this kind of self-expression is not really culturally there. Rwandans traditionally are very reserved, very kind of – don't necessarily do that whole big performance thing.

FRANNIE: Rwandans also speak French, right? Is that the national language?

SHAD: Mhmm. Yeah.

FRANNIE: So do you know – is there a connection with French rap or that diaspora?

SHAD: Not really, because there's still – music, and again this kind of music, it's relatively new there, versus Kenya – I don't know if you've ever toured in Kenya, but they have a whole music scene. South Africa too, Congo even. It's a lot less developed, the music scene and music industry in Rwanda. But there's this artist Stromae, he's Rwandan. I think he's part-Rwandan. But he's Belgian and –

FRANNIE: That's right. I forgot. My friend has the biggest crush on him in the whole world.

SHAD: Yeah, he's huge in Europe.

FRANNIE: Yeah. 

SHAD: And he's kind of big over here too, but he's huge in Europe. Yeah.

FRANNIE: I forgot about him. I should check on their budding relationship. So can you explain who you are in Canada? How famous are you? Do you have an American counterpart?

SHAD: That's tough. Because Canada is so small that for every Canadian – like, let's say Maestro, if you know who Maestro is, he's like our godfather. So he's kind of our Melle Mel, but then also he's our Rakim and also maybe our Big Daddy Kane. You kind of have to put them all together. Drake is our Drake. And who would I be? I would be our – something like Common plus – who hosts a show? You know what I mean?

FRANNIE: That's what I was thinking! Who hosts a show?

SHAD: Yeah.

FRANNIE: Cause it's like, who are people who host a show here? But it would also be like, who hosts a public radio show kind of, right?

SHAD: Exactly. Yeah. And then also a lot of what in America would be left-of-center hip-hop for a long time was kind of more our mainstream almost hip-hop. So artists like k-os was our biggest rapper, and in America, he would be left-of-center, for sure left-of-center.

FRANNIE: Totally.

SHAD: So that also makes the comparisons a little bit difficult. Yeah. Like, who would k-os – I don't know who – he'd be like André 3000 or something. 

ALI: Yeah, probably. Yeah. This is a good question.

FRANNIE: Cause I'm trying to think about – I feel like there's – say, Fab 5 Freddy, just cause of Yo! MTV Raps is kind of – not that it's at all the same type of show, but it's a combination of the way that he sees all of hip-hop and the connections. But there's gotta be somebody who's more contemporary. 

ALI: More contemporary.

FRANNIE: Yeah, that –

SHAD: Yeah. 

ALI: Yeah, I don't know who that is.

SHAD: It's tough because of all those different factors. Cause k-os was our – he was the biggest, but also the oddest.

FRANNIE: Lin-Manuel Miranda! What about Fab 5 Freddy plus Lin-Manuel?

SHAD: Yeah, something like that. Something like that. But then because there's fewer of us, it's like, yeah, I don't know.

ALI: The musical gene in me is like, "Nah, nah, nah."

FRANNIE: It's not about – so I'm not thinking about music.

ALI: I know. No, I know. I know. I just couldn't help it, cause I have a thing. Listeners, I don't like musicals, so that's enough.

FRANNIE: We can't talk shit about Hamilton on this podcast.

ALI: No. I'm not talking. I haven't even seen anything, and I don't –

FRANNIE: We'll get in too much trouble.

ALI: And I still wish The Heights was around cause I missed out on that, and I wanted to see that. So it's not any shade towards him. But I was just thinking, him as a creative person, I get that part, but I was really try to find that MC.

FRANNIE: Cause I'm interested in who you are, but also then how you're audience thinks of themselves kind of, especially with hosting Q. So when you started hosting Q, somebody hit me up, Soraya McDonald – she's at the Washington Post, and I think she's at Undefeated now – interviewed me about you getting that job. And I was like, "Oh yeah, I can't believe" – and I think the controversy was like, "Should a rapper have this job?" And I was like, "I can't actually think of a genre that would groom somebody for that job better." But I think about – it was – was there pushback in any way for you essentially hosting – I don't know – the All Things Considered of Canada?

SHAD: Yeah. That's also a difficult one to find an analog for, right, because our public radio is a little bigger than your public radio in the sense that we're kind of like the BBC. It's a big big broadcaster, very well-funded, big broadcaster. And then Q in particular was this sort of odd hit.

FRANNIE: But that people felt strongly about.

SHAD: People felt very strongly about it, and people feel very strongly about things when it has to do with the public broadcaster in Canada, because they're paying for it. So that's another difficult one to find an analog, but yes, something like that, mixed with a BBC popular BBC music show.

FRANNIE: It's like Terry Gross. You're like the Terry Gross of Canada.

SHAD: Yeah. Mixed with a BBC music show. Something like that.

FRANNIE: Right.

SHAD: So yeah, so there was some pushback, because again, my music career was not mainstream in Canada. So the average listener of that show would not really know who I was. They would just know like, "He's a rapper." That's all they would know.

FRANNIE: How did that happen? Did you want that to happen?

SHAD: It was not anything I was interested in doing. I was never like, "Yeah, let me do radio." That was never really a thing on my mind. So the former host lost his job, and they were kind of looking for a new host, and I was just watching the situation from my home. And then yeah, somebody – the executive producer was like, "Would you like to come in and guest host." They had all these guest hosts come in.

FRANNIE: Oh, OK.

SHAD: Different people, some were journalists. Some were artists or whatever. So they asked me to come in and guest host, and I said, "Yeah, that sounds like fun." And I did that for a week, and I was like, "This was fun actually. I liked it." I still didn't think that they would offer me the job. I don't even know if I really wanted the job, but it was interesting. And then they offered me the job, and I was like, "Yeah, sounds like fun." That's always been my thing. If someone says you want to try this, it's the same thing with Hip-Hop Evolution, someone says, "You want to try this interesting thing," I'm like, "Yeah." That's it. It's kind of that simple for me.

And it was interesting, and it came at a time in my career too where I was feeling like, "I would to try different things. I'm still going to make music, but I don't know." I feel like you reach a point – I don't know how far along you are in your career, but I feel like you reach a point where you are interested in different things, I think. I think that's a natural thing that you have to go through, even if it's awkward, to keep going.

ALI: Yeah, it makes sense.

SHAD: So that was sort of part of that for me. I still feel like I'm a little bit in that time, almost just getting out of it, of, "I feel like I just need to try different things and grow and learn and some of it will work, and some of it won't. But that's not exactly the point. I just feel like I need to respond to whatever desire is there to learn and grow to keep going.

FRANNIE: I feel like what I'm hearing – and I'm a little bit jealous of it – is that your parents didn't put a lot of pressure on you to have to do something to have made it, or now you're an adult – I don't know. Something in the way that you're talking makes me feel like it's always been OK to grow, try it out, if it doesn't work.

SHAD: Yeah, honestly, that's very perceptive of you. So where my parents grew up – they were refugees all over East Africa when they were growing up, and the big thing that my mom always reinforced was there, if you take the grade eight exam and if you don't score a certain mark, you will never go to high school, ever. You will never ever go to high school.

So my mom was just amazed when people in Canada would, say, not get accepted to med school or something, and not reapply ten times. She's like, "You can! You can do anything! You can fail your driver's test 12 times. Just the 13th time, if you get it, they give you your license." So there was – I was brought up with this sense of kind of: put your ego aside, because there's so much opportunity to try and fail, and it's cool. That was actually deliberately sort of told to me a lot.

FRANNIE: That's cool. 

SHAD: That just comes from their very unique experience.

FRANNIE: Yeah, I feel like that changes your relationship to risk a little bit. When you're really worried about having a title or a salary, then it can seem like a really big deal to switch up your whole occupation all of sudden, or make an album that – it's not data-driven. It's what you really want – really have to say.

SHAD: Well, it's that. I also internalize their idea of what risk is too. They came from –

FRANNIE: Like, real risk.

SHAD: – real risk, you know?

FRANNIE: Yeah.

SHAD: They came from real risk, so they're like, "That's not risk."

ALI: What is your thoughts of the current state of hip-hop? It's kind of hard to get away from that question. The statement that will.i.am just made about –

SHAD: Oh, I saw that. I know what you're talking about.

FRANNIE: You want me to look it up and read it?

ALI: Yeah, we could do it if we're going that far with it.

SHAD: And then I saw – yeah, Ebro was retweeting it every hour, making sure everyone saw it. 

FRANNIE: Is it Twitter? I don't have Twitter on my phone.

ALI: Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on. I'ma grab it right now. Where is it?

FRANNIE: Cause it seems like will.i.am said more things.

ALI: It says, "The problem with hip-hop is everybody could do it. It doesn't much fucking skill right now to make hip-hop. It's become the lowest hanging fruit. It's no longer about Rakim level, Nas level, not the deep metaphorical simile shit." Yeah, we're all going to have an opinion about this. What did you think about the statement though? 

SHAD: I would say generally I agree, and I actually think that a lot of the artists that make the music that he's talking about agree. There's a lot of young producers I've talked to that have hit records that are like, "It's getting boring making these records." They're like, "It's really really easy, and it's actually getting boring." And they actually want to explore other things. So I don't think he's off base generally speaking. It's not something that I think about all the time, but it's hard for me to say he's wrong.

FRANNIE: Yeah. 

ALI: I just was curious about your thoughts, because your music seems to always – I thought he said – had another statement to another quote in addition to that, and that's what I'm looking up, but your music to me always is very conscious. And it seems in line with times and also way outside of what's going on. And that's just me coming from the American perspective. I don't – as much as I love Toronto and what's going on up there, I don't really have an insider's feel of the music scene there, and I know that the music scene is very diverse and rich. It's small, but there are a lot more things that you're able to do, and people have more of an open-mindedness. So when I make that statement, again, it's just coming from New Yorker –

SHAD: Well, I still come from the I'm a product of the era of that was the goal, was to be different, and like I was saying earlier, that's what inspired me, was seeing artists be different. And so that's always been what I've wanted to do, it's the only thing that I care about doing, which is why I don't think too much about what else is going on, because regardless, I'm only inspired to tell my stories and to be different. But that being said, I find it hard to disagree with what he's saying.

ALI: Yeah, so do I. I talked to him a few months ago, and I think maybe he – this is my guess, everyone – don't come at me crazy – is that I know specifically that he's working with a whole group of young artists who actually are – they're not reaching for the low-hanging fruit. In terms of music, they're really some fierce writers, creatively, just in terms of story but in a rapper sense, the MC bringing skill and wit and charm and all those other aspects that we throw under being an MC. He's around a young generation of ill rappers, the Rakim style. So I think probably that's where he's coming from, and he's also – he's grooming. He created a workshop to –

SHAD: Crazy.

ALI: Yeah.

SHAD: That's really dope.

FRANNIE: It's separate from the Young Chicago.

ALI: Yeah, it's separate. He has a whole 'nother thing that he's doing, so he's creating a space to inform people like, "If you want to be great, you come in here. You think you're this, but now let me hit you with that." It's like being in a dojo.

SHAD: That's so dope. That's so dope. And yeah, I do think that's still around, because that inspiration gets passed down. Lupe has inspired a lot of people, has inspired me. And Kendrick and Saba and Vince Staples are inspiring people, and that's passing down – that will never get – it will never get completely lost for sure. I think will.i.am's statement is speaking more to –

ALI: The mainstream. 

SHAD: – the mainstream and what we actually get exposed to. And that's the part that is a little bit head-scratching to me, because I was touched by the music I was touched by because I was exposed it. If I was not exposed to it, I just would've not been exposed to it, and then what I'm supposed to do? I would've just emulated stuff that was less than.

ALI: Well, you're crazy lyrical.

SHAD: Thank you.

ALI: How do you – what is that you're reading or listening to now that just keeps your sword razor sharp? Cause you're spitting crazily.

SHAD: I just, I love it. You know what I mean? I love it. From the first time I was ever freestyling in the cafeteria, I just love making people's brains explode, that feeling. I'll never lose that, even if I never listen to anything again.

But I just think we live in a moment now – the cool thing I think with hip-hop right now is it is starting to broaden. So Black Thought has had these amazing projects. Phonte had a dope project. Of course, people love 4:44. So this whole thing that I think happened in 2016, 2017, this kind of old head/young head clash, I think is starting to resolve, because there's young people making great music and there's old people making great music, and sooner or later it's just going to have to coexist.

So who am I listening to? Black Thought to me is – you can't be better. You can't be better. You can be as good. You can't be better than that. No. It's impossible. Who else? I was really impressed by that Saba album, loved it. Vince Staples is great. Kendrick brought things to a whole other level. I still don't know how they make those albums. I don't understand. It's amazing. The detail – I don't know what you guys think – but just the detail is amazing. And then that London, Ontario grow up with whatever's on the radio, I'm always listening to everything, and going back a lot.

But I listen to a lot of stuff outside of hip-hop, and I also find now because there's so much music that when it comes to 2018 and people ask me what's your favorite albums of 2018, it's like, "I'm still kind of listening to 2016, 2015 albums." I'm catching up still. But yeah, lyrically, those are some of the people that inspire. Phonte is a great rapper, huge influence on Drake. Not everybody knows that, but his personality, the way that he's able to be so conversational. I'm a fan of a lot of people.

FRANNIE: Yeah, the thing with will.i.am's statement is that there's a way he's kind of talking about audience and not musicians or music. I feel like he's more talking shit on what people listen to or what is popular as opposed to what is actually getting made, which is fair except that I do think that there is a silent majority that's listening to all of it and is able to hold all of these conflicting ideas and styles in their heads at the same time. 

I mean, I had friends that I was – who are basically just fuck with Atlanta and like very young Atlanta, but that when the Tribe album dropped were super focused on it and moved by it and really needed it. And I didn't really hear – they sounded very different to me. So I don't know. I do think that people's palates are big and we should trust them. I also think that a lot of the stuff that gets pushed gets pushed for all the wrong reasons, and it's disturbing. 

Yeah, I don't know. It just seems to me like there's – it's hard – it's like the Netflix hole. There's so much to listen to. You just go back and listen to whatever's obvious or whatever is on a playlist or whatever you know by heart already. But if you extend a little effort and you presume that the people – that strangers are extending a little effort, then we're all listening to tons of stuff and can tell the difference and can freight it appropriately.

SHAD: That is true. It makes me think of a couple things. One, is talking to some of my younger cousins, and it's interesting cause they do listen to it all, and they can tell the difference. I ask them who they're listening to. They're like, "I listen to this guy and this guy, but that's not good."

FRANNIE: Right!

SHAD: And then they're like, "And I listen to this." So yeah, there is something in that comment that is about audience but missing something about the audience, but then there's something true about what's being pushed –

FRANNIE: But you can't deny what he's saying.

SHAD: But you can't deny what he's saying, and there's something true about what's being pushed and how. Cause you're right. When the Tribe album came out, there was so much excitement around it. But was it pushed the same? 

FRANNIE: Totally.

SHAD: I don't know if it was, and if it –

ALI: It wasn't. 

SHAD: – wasn't, then why? Right? 

FRANNIE: Yes. 

SHAD: Because there was so much excitement. 

FRANNIE: And just infrastructure-wise, where was it going to get pushed and how? What else is going to be around it on – it kind of could've worked on Hot 97 at certain times of the day, but on Power 106 could it? The mechanisms are – they're so – you know what I'm trying to say.

ALI: All that just brings me back to A Short Story About War, cause I'm like –

FRANNIE: Yeah! Cause how are people going to find it?

ALI: I'm like, if you really want the answers – but yeah, sorry.

SHAD: Yeah. It's an odd thing for me, because again I just think so much about exposure. What I mean by exposure is familiarity is very close to liking something.

FRANNIE: Yeah, repeated exposure.

SHAD: Just repeated exposure. I was exposed to certain things when I was younger enough that I got a chance to really like it, and that's really all it took. It wasn't – that's really all that it took. Was it good? Yes. And was I exposed to it enough? Yes. So I'm really not sure what the disconnect is now. I don't know everything is so data-driven, but is it really data-driven, or is it payola.

FRANNIE: Cause that data is missing. Payola isn't talked about enough. But I do think there is a generational difference in this. What you're talking about, biting was a problem. People really didn't want to the be the same, and now I do feel like people really are totally fine with shit being the same. Or they're like, "If I iterate, that counts." And it's like, "No it doesn't. It's not the same thing." And that is a very big difference in the way that we consume and compare and rate things kind of.

SHAD: But then I see a problem for those artists, because they don't form a meaningful connection with an audience, I think. So let's say you copy what's popular –

FRANNIE: They don't want to last. They don't go in thinking they're going to last.

SHAD: Yeah.

FRANNIE: But yes.

SHAD: I just wonder how that works from a career perspective, because you might have – OK, you copy what was very popular, so you might have a hot song right now. But as we said, the audience is savvy, so they don't actually care about you. 

ALI: Yeah.

SHAD: So then how can you build a sustainable career.

ALI: Well, to get them to care –

FRANNIE: It's a money grab. 

ALI: Yeah. To get them to care enough, just enough –  

FRANNIE: Exactly.

ALI: – so that I can get – I get paid. I get what I need from it, and then guess what? I can come back now that I understand how formulaic it is, and I'll come back and do it again, if I want, which it's not art. It's a product at that point. But I mean, that's where we're living in.

FRANNIE: And it happens in every media. It's not just hip-hop. It's not just music.

SHAD: Yeah. It's tough. I try to think about what I would tell a young artist, and part of me says, "You want to form a meaningful connection. You want that person to be checking for you later and later and later and later because you touch them." That's actually from a business standpoint your best play, I think. But then part of that comes down to what inspires you, because that's what inspired me. Now if you weren't inspired, I don't know. I don't know. If you weren't inspired by that, you weren't inspired in that way, then sure, I guess that's what you want to make.

FRANNIE: Well, if you were inspired to be an entrepreneur, to make product, market it, flip shit.

SHAD: Yeah. Then I just can't advise you because that's not my motivation, so I can't recommend a course of action.

FRANNIE: So what do you make after A Short Story About War?

SHAD: Now I feel very free to make something just really loose and fun, which I really feel good about, because I actually think that's what I do best. I really love to give people that feeling. So I feel very liberated to do that, and I'm very excited to do that, because it is – again, that's what I want to give to people. And I just think it's what I do best. I think I still don't have that producer in the rock sense, but I think if I did, they'd be like, "Only make that."

FRANNIE: Who would your producer be?

SHAD: Somebody that can tell me that. Somebody that can tell me like, "This is what I want to hear you do."

FRANNIE: Yeah, that is a really interesting relationship, and to be able to have a different producer for different – every album, kind of cool. You'd do your mom for one.

SHAD: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

FRANNIE: And then, like, your deli guy for another one. "Really, like, how do you see me?"

SHAD: That's true. That's true. But I think that's essentially what that voice is, or if you're in a group, you can do it by committee. That works out that problem too I think.

FRANNIE: Thank you for coming here.

ALI: Yeah. Word.

SHAD: It was my pleasure, yeah, really my pleasure to speak with you both.

FRANNIE: Just talk about a bunch of things.

SHAD: Yeah. It's dope. It's dope.

FRANNIE: Yeah.

ALI: Cool. Thanks.

SHAD: Yeah, thank you.

Your Old Droog

Your Old Droog

Aishah White

Aishah White