Many times in Christian music, artists have a tendency to sing about the lighter side of life. It acknowledges the darkness, but focuses more on banishing it and looking into the light. This is a function of music that is necessary, but there are other aspects of the Christian experience that are not often dealt with. Although Shad, a Canadian hip-hop musician, does not label his music as Christian, it does convey ideas that are missing in Christian music. Instead of focusing solely on the light, Shad names the darkness so that we can better understand it and recognize it in order to avoid it and speak out against it.
This comes out strongly in his song “I’ll Never Understand”, which he wrote with his mother, who experienced the genocide in Rwanda. In the parts that his mother sings, she details what happened to her family, and Shad sings about how he could not understand how people could be so cruel to one another or do nothing about what happened. Towards the end of the song, while they are still singing of the atrocities that were committed, it is mingled with the pain of forgiveness,
I untied the chains
Of those who knifed my sister’s throat
Leaving her begging for a better death
I untied the chains
Knowing the one who said to do it
Seventy times seven
Totally understands the depth of my pain
They acknowledge the difficulty of forgiveness, while not ignoring the horror of what happened. With the knowledge of the terrible acts that people committed, listeners are better equipped to understand the difficulty of forgiveness and the extent to which we are expected to forgive. Without knowing what happened, the forgiveness that Shad and his mother offered to those who tortured his mother’s family would not mean as much.
At times, we do need to hear music about the light and offer praise to God, as much of Christian music does, but we also need to hear about the darkness and name it to get a fuller understanding of what we are facing. Shad does not shy away from this, but shows the darkness to his listeners so that they do not fall into its trap.
- Avery Johnson
The trend in hip-hop right now is in young gun rap. It’s in your face and it takes a few forms. ASAP Rocky is leading the pack right now with his sexually violent urbanite spin. He sports a top rated album and a huge signing bonus from RCA. He’s 25. Curren$y has a similar story. 30 years old, Southern roots, bankrolled by Warner Bros. Lil B has made a splash, too, with his smart Berkley born swag. 22 years old. Certainly not rolling in the same amount of cash. His charisma makes up for it. Ask anyone about Lil B and you’ll hear about the newness and the personality. He’s transfixing; most of all, he’s fresh. They all are. But there is an alternative narrative.
Shad fits into this landscape as the same sort of young gun. The difference, which makes a big difference, is that he’s positive. You don’t see the traditional hip-hop trappings in Shad’s music. And people like that. Call it “positive hip hop” if you’d like. Primarily, it’s music that’s even fresher than the fresh MC’s replaying the old game in their 2011 way (think of the guys mentioned above). And it has been prefigured in acts like The Fugees and Goodie Mob. It remains interesting for its difficulty and its rarity. Positive narratives do not come easily in hip-hop culture. So when Shad (a Juno award winning rapper) rises, it’s encouraging and really fun to watch.
Take Shad’s “A Good Name.” One gets a sense in this track for his hubris free self-respect, which is a hard thing to find in newcomer hip-hop, not to mention Shad’s sense for musical and lyrical style (which is impressive),
Handed down proud roots from my motherland
To my hometown people say my name sounds dope no doubt but that's not why I'm most proud
I've got a good name.
Looking for poetry? Try “We Are The Ones.” It’s a smooth track with a catchy vocal hook.
A vessel at the end of the day, I'm not the bee's knees,
Only need knees to bend them to pray.
Break bread with the saints, for the sake of having bread during the wake.
This here's a full-time work group,
And virtue is on-and-off in the church pew.
Maybe you’re thinking Shad’s too optimistic? Is it because he’s not like the rest? In fact, that’s Shad’s real benefit. And it actually does not only give him a clean conscience; it sells records. He’s still on a small label. But the thing to keep in mind about the big-ego rap game is that stars fade every day. And not necessarily because they’ve done anything exceptionally “wrong.” Most of it has to do with subject matter. Anyone can hate on women or MC for the cash. That approach is flashy but thin. What continues to sell records and win awards is lyrical integrity and musical talent, or magical combination of those two elements. So, I’m inclined to stick with Shad. His “Keep Shining” says it all,
…I’ve been known to talk about women
on a track or two.
I talk to women, I just can’t talk for women
That’s for you
We need women for that
More women in rap.
- John Scherer