It’s been five years since Shad released his last proper hip-hop album, Adult Contempt (2016) being more in the pop-rock genre, but the time away from the mic hasn’t been wasted. A Short Story About A War stays focused the socio-political issues Shad has covered since When This Is Over but unlike a large proportion of ‘socially conscious’ rap, the album makes for compulsive listening. Touching on everything from racism and the military-industrial complex to homelessness in his native Toronto, A Short Story About A War rewards multiple listens as you dig into the layers of meaning Shad has constructed.
The album is gripping from the jump with Shad indicating where he’s going on the lead track ‘Intro: Sniper’, a spoken word piece setting up the short story the album is going to tell. It’s followed by ‘The Revolution/The Establishment’ where a pounding beat underscores Shad’s gift for complex rhymes schemes and deft tonal shifts. In the second half, the perspective shifts to a mid-level employee at a munitions manufacturer attempting to justify his job. Shad brings the track to life with a smart vocal shift and conversational flow, similar to Louis Logic’s ‘Postal’ or ‘Best Friends’ on Sin-A-Matic but with a much more political agenda.
The standout track comes at the halfway point with ‘Magic’ where Shad laments the erasure of black history over soaring vocals from Colombian singer Lido Pimienta. The track manages to mix sorrow and anger as Shad raps “See it’s kinda like magic (huh)/ The way they cause a distraction and poof!/ All that we had disappears and we clap and forget that it happened/ Forgot that we lost it/ Forgot that the magic-men have it.” ‘Magic’ is at its most powerful when Shad’s raw emotions dovetail with the driving, almost tribal, energy of the beat, compelling you to listen.
Impressively the album doesn’t really sag anywhere. Shad makes a virtue of brevity with the 13-track album coming in 30 seconds shorter than the ten-track Illmatic. In fact, the album could perhaps do with being a little longer as the framing device of the story doesn’t really seem to carry through from start to finish. However, that shouldn’t detract from the album overall. Beyond that the flaws, such as they are, come when Shad steps away from overarching themes to touch on more topical issues like Trump – fortunately these missteps are small and infrequent over the course of the album.
With a third season of Hip-Hop Evolution looking likely and Shad’s penchant for taking on other projects, it could be a while before we get another album from him but if it’s anything like A Short Story About A War, his next one will certainly be worth the wait.
Album Rating: Highly Recommended.
Poor: 0-2 Stars / Favourable: 2-4 Stars / Highly Recommended: 4-5 Stars