In Review: TSOL


Artist: Shad

Black Box Recordings

Released: May 25, 2010


In a recent conversation among current and former staff, the word “travesty” was used to describe the situation that would arise if The Cord did not review TSOL, the latest album by Wilfrid Laurier University alumnus Shadrach Kabango.

Shad, the London, Ontario-raised rapper who honed his craft on Laurier’s campus only a few years ago, produced his album TSOL with Classified and members of Broken Social Scene as guests, has toured extensively and has managed to garner critical and popular acclaim.

His 2007 release The Old Prince attracted uncommon attention for an artist in the Canadian indie rap scene and landed him nominations for Juno awards and the Polaris Music Prize.

Acclaim and a relationship to Laurier notwithstanding, Shad’s latest effort stands on its own merit.

The tracks rely on impressive instrumentation and creative use of samples, but Shad’s poignant and clever rhymes are TSOL’s strength. There is a lot of potential for bad lyrical material in rap – but it’s difficult to fault an artist that singles out his cell phone service provider in his lyrics, and does it seamlessly and effectively.

Following the path set out by artists like Common (whose influence is apparent here), Shad’s music comes across as more accessible and constructive than typical rap fare. Other hip-hoppers have focused solely on meaningful social commentary and uplifting sentiments in their lyrics in the past, and Shad continues this trend, albeit with more comic intonation than bare seriousness.

This is rap that you could play for your mom, and prejudices against the genre aside, she would probably love it.

Tracks like “Rose Garden” and “We, Myself and I” stand out as catchy, but not syrupy and are worthy of numerous replays. The entire album seems to have an innate ability to not tire even after repeated listens. Like The Old Prince, the witty and serious elements of the lyrics merge and the songs are just plain interesting over and over again.

Shad’s influences are very noticeable, as the basic beats seem rooted in early 1990s hip hop. One shortcoming the album seems to have is dwelling on this basic formula, despite the increasingly creative beats being produced by other rap artists.

At points, the overuse of vinyl scratching sound effects becomes a bit grating. It’s as though Shad, who has rhymed about being financially restrained in the past, went to Costco and purchased such sounds in bulk, applying them generously all over the songs.

Sound effects aside, Shad offers another respectable collection of songs with TSOL, as worthy of a listen by those who share the rapper’s alma mater as to those who don’t.