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First Play: Shad, Flying Colours

Jesse Kinos-Goodin

Flying Colours, the new album from Shad, begins with one of his most confident and boastful songs to date.

"A lot of cats want to see the best watch. Well if you want to see the best, watch," he raps on "Intro: Lost," a fierce, four-and-a-half-minute song in which the 31-year-old rapper compares himself to Jay Z and, in true Shad fashion, "Redd Foxx mixed with a TED Talk."

"This is real pride in my eyes, it's not a cocky act," he admits on the same song, setting the tone on Flying Colours, his fourth album and the first since 2010's TSOL won the Juno for rap recording of the year over Drake's Thank Me Later. The message was clear: Drake may be Canada's most successful rapper, but Shad is Canada's rapper (note the Canadian spelling of "colours" in the new album title).

Earlier this week, we posted a track-by-track album stream and commentary with Shad and CBC's George Stroumboulopoulos, and if you haven't checked that out yet, it's here.

Below, you can listen to the studio album, which is followed below by a Q&A with the rapper on referencing Jay Z, not getting too Drake with his feelings and rapping like it's his last album. Flying Colours is available Oct. 15, but you can pre-order it here.

I wanted to start by saying I think this has to be your most confident record yet.

Yeah, in a sense I think it probably is, but not intentionally. It’s just the headspace I was in I guess. There is sort of that thread that goes through the whole thing. You’re actually the second or third person to tell me that now, and it’s been a surprise to hear that. When I think about it though, it makes sense.

You’re usually a pretty humble rapper, but then you come out on the intro with some Watch the Throne references and that Kanye West flow, so it sounds intentional.

You know, for the first time when I was making this album, I had one eye on what other people were doing. I want to be doing something on par with my influences, and that was the first time I ever did that. Evolution. It was a natural evolution, like I had what the ideas I wanted to explore, but then this is what some of my influences are doing, people that I look up to, so I was thinking I should push myself to try to reach that level creatively.

Speaking of, there’s even a Jay Z sample from “Moment of Clarity” in the outro, and his line from “Otis” is the hook on “Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins).” Why Jay?

For me, Jay is a canonical figure, it’s like quoting the bible or Shakespeare or something like that. He’s in the canon. You can borrow from that anytime you want; it’s in our lexicon.

And that line, “Not bad huh, for some immigrants,” it’s just one of those ones that jump out the first time you hear it.

Exactly, that’s what I like about it. I hope people can place that sample so they know where it comes from, and how I’ve shifted the meaning.

Whose idea was it to use that on the hook?

That was me. When I heard that, he says it in a totally different context, and I thought it would be cool to make that the chorus. That was one of the earlier ideas, before I even talked to Skratch Bastid about doing the beat. Nobody has done that so explicitly in a rap song in Canada.

You’re also referencing a rap giant from the U.S. Do you want to make more headway there?

I always want to be able to make more headway in the U.S., but I make music in this context, and first and foremost for this context. Referencing Jay just shows that we’re in there as far as influences go, we’re listening to the same music on the other side of that invisible line.

You’ve said before the album is about success and failure. What got you on this idea?

This time in my life, where you became acquainted with both and it’s a challenge. How do you sort of be OK with that and accept that this is who I am? There is success in my life and failure and I can carry them both forward and be better. It was the perfect thing to have in the back of my mind, under the surface, even if some of the songs go in different directions.

Speaking of failure, “He Say She Say” is about a failed relationship. Is it autobiographical?

That’s an interesting one because it’s not exactly autobiographical but it spoke to feelings and experiences that are sort of autobiographical. It let me talk about personal relationships but without making it too specific, too weird, too....

Too Drake?

[Laughs]. Without making it a little too like that, but still being able to go there. There is a responsibility to your audience to be vulnerable, because people look to music for that, but on the other hand, I want to protect some of my own life. Plus, you just don’t want to be too creepy, you want to be professional, you know? There is honesty that is good and healthy to be around, and then there is honesty that’s just like, well now that is just uncomfortable.

There’s a great line on “Stylin'” you have about people coming up to you saying they don’t like rap, but they like you. Do you want that crossover to non-rap fans, or do you want a rap album for rap fans?

I’m happy with any fans but I thought it would be a funny thing to comment on. It is a funny thing to hear and people don’t realize how it sounds to me, like, I like you but I don’t like your influences or essentially what you do.

At one point, you question whether this is your last album. Do you go into every album like it’s your last?

I have to, because I may have no choice. But I think that’s good. It makes me put that much more into it.

Follow Jesse Kinos-Goodin on Twitter: @JesseKG