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Elevator 20: Shad

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One thing that makes you sit up, shut up and take notice as a rap listener is when a rapper speaks uncomfortable truths about the world or him or herself. That steely-eyed, crude honesty is what draws so many people to hip-hop. We connect because we’ve been yearning for someone to say what’s being said. We think, ‘Wow, I’m not courageous enough to say this, but I’m so glad that somebody is’.

Another thing that makes us take notice is when a rapper clearly enjoys rapping. I remember Haych of M.S.I & Asylum giddily bouncing around the room as he unveiled a fresh verse. My friend Sensei C has a look of sheer glee in his eyes as he tongue-twists his way through a cadence-shifting rap song.

Kenyan-born, Ontario-raised rapper Shad exhibits both qualities. He tackles tough truths and he undoubtedly loves what he does, both the lyric writing and the reciting. You can see it written all over his face.

Exhibit One: his new single ‘Stylin’:

I discovered Shad in 2010 when I saw the ‘Yaa I Get It [Remix]’ video.  I was impressed not just by his confidence but also his sweating in the underground bunker shots – he was keeping that little crowd hyped. I thought, ‘Woh, this man is willing to put in work’.

He is an extremely well rounded emcee. His flows are stunning. The track ‘Brother (Watching) ’ [from his 2007 album ‘The Old Prince’] has one multi-syllable rhyme scheme running right through both verses and not one time does the rhyme feel shoehorned in. It’s a perfect marriage of aural form, function and heavyweight subject matter.

‘Keep Shining’ is a heart-felt ode to womankind. He highlights women’s strengths, vulnerabilities, beauty, courage and how much better the world would be if women really got to show their full potential.

Yet as well as maneuvering through the more serious lyrical terrain Shad enjoys poking fun at himself.

As Pitchfork rightly points out Shad is ‘spiritual without being preachy, righteous without being self-righteous, and human without sounding mundane.’

Shad has recently put out this choose-your-price e.p. : http://shadk.bandcamp.com/album/the-spring-up

His new album, Flying Colours, will be released in October. Here’s his site.

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Elevator 6: Eternia

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A few years ago when I heard about Eternia’s tour of high schools as part of a Plan Canada charity initiative, I felt compelled to write her to just say: ‘Keep on doing what you’re doing – you’re changing lives’. The tour addressed women’s and girls rights. As a parent of a young girl I’d be dead excited to have a female rapper who’s not afraid to be perceived as a role-model come to speak and rap at my kid’s school about identity, self-esteem and girls rights.

Eternia, originally from Ottawa, now based in NYC, exudes generosity. She’s not content with making records. She whole-heartedly champions various causes and artists. With trademark gusto she hosts this recent free-to-download ‘World Hip Hop Women’ mixtape.

She writes heart-on-sleeve raps. In this interview with Canadian Journal This Magazine she explains: “one of the running critiques of It’s Called Life [her debut full-length release] was, “Great album, great album, too personal.” People don’t want you to go that deep, almost like it made them uncomfortable. But I can say for the most part people really relate and appreciate having someone else speak their story.”

I’m partial to this Beach Boys sampling scorcher of a track ‘Evidence’ from that early album.

In 2010 Eternia and collaborator hip-hop producer MoSS released the heavy-hitting album ‘At Last’. Album opener ‘Any Man’ certainly pulls no punches.

But my goodness, it’s this song ‘To the Future’ which just melts your heart and shows Eternia at her most personal and profound.

Last week Eternia answered a few questions I put to her:

70elevators: Which of your positive attributes is most evident in your music?
E: Probably my faith. I like to think my music has a ‘victorious’, ‘overcome all odds’ feel to it, for the most part. And that is an accurate reflection of my personality and approach to life. The glass is half full no matter what the circumstance. I do my best to appreciate the journey, even in the lowest of moments.

70elevators: If you could change one thing in the world what would it be?
E: People living compartmentalized lives and viewing the world in compartments.
Stereotyping, judging, making assumptions: this type of thinking and approach to life drives me crazy. I prefer a more holistic view and approach to all things and all people.

70elevators: If you were introducing someone to hip-hop music which album would you have them listen to?
E: That’s hard. Off the top I would probably say Nas’ ‘Illmatic’.

Here’s her music site: http://eternia.bandcamp.com

And her everything else site: http://therealeternia.tumblr.com/

Down-to-earth, undaunted, positive & profound, Eternia’s a one-woman destroyer of stereotypes and the brilliant thing about a vanquished stereotype is that when it’s gone it’s usually gone for good.

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Elevator 5: Buck 65

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I could write a lot about Richard Terfry aka Buck 65 and what makes him an elevator of rap. He is one of the most imaginative rap lyricists I’ve ever met.

Honestly I could go on for ages about this songwriter/rapper/dj/producer/yarnspinner from Mount Uniake, Nova Scotia, but in an attempt to keep it brief, I’ll list seven of Buck’s contributions to the art of rap.

 

1. The Wildlife EP

This fantastical story spread over three songs changed the way I thought about rap. His tone and delivery was pitch-perfect [like he’s telling it as you both huddle over a tiny wood stove in a refugee camp]. Wildlife destroyed my perceived boundaries of narrative rap thus opening me up to be far more adventurous in my writing and recordings. I don’t think I’d be making this film without Buck 65’s Wildlife. Here’s all three songs:

 

2. The Live Experience and Live Ethics

I’ve seen Buck 65 perform on 9 occasions. The first time was in April 2001 in Chicago. He was opening up for Sage Francis, Slug and the Living Legends with a set that was sonically diverse and unabashedly silly. As he rapped his recently penned song ‘Food’ he exuded a sense of joy. He rapped and beat-juggled simultaneously. He performed The Centaur, which managed to be spine chilling then absurd then genuinely melancholic.

[A quick footnote: Reviewer Aaron Newell points out The Centaur is “probably one of the most coherent, semiotically-layered artistic statements I’d ever encountered in music…It illustrates through first-hand-listener-experience how easily context and preconception can lead to misunderstanding. And it does so on purpose, not so much self-defeating as mirroring the cynical listener.” The fact that the Centaur’s main sample comes from the ‘Carrie’ soundtrack is no coincidence.]

Afterwards I introduced myself to Buck and we talked about the use of bread in live shows. Yes, bread.

Buck 65 injects his gigs with a vulnerability, which is rare for performers, especially rappers. Before a performance in Leicester he explained to the audience how he was struggling to deal with a deeply hurtful situation and that it might affect his energy level onstage. He proceeded to deliver a flawless performance, full of sensitivity, latent anger and self-deprecating humour.

He’s content with quiet spectators. He doesn’t want the audience to throw their hands up. He claims he has to put in the work to deserve audience participation.

And yet he’s audacious enough to genuinely hope that both he and his audience can have their lives changed during the course of a performance.

 

3. The Story Magnet, The Stand-up and the Yarnspinner

I asked him once to tell me and my wife Danielle a bedtime story when he stayed over a few years back. He proceeded to beguile us for the next 30 minutes with an incredible and very funny story of a post-gig evening gone horribly wrong. It was as effortless as any stand-up routine you’d pay good money for. Danielle and me sat there snuggled up on our sofa mesmerized. ‘Did that really happen?’ He smiled, assured us that it did and went off to bed.

Buck 65 is a weird story magnet.

How about Riverbed pt.1-5?

But there’s a soaring imagination too: Secret Splendor and another one of my old favorites Hats On Beds

All the songs on his Situation album are set in 1957!

 

4. His deep-rooted morality and his ability to intertwine hope and melancholy

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The wonder of ‘Craftsmanship’

A solid live performance of ‘Bandits’

The fury of ‘Pants on Fire’

 

5. The nuanced, awkwardly intimate but thoroughly sexy Drawing Curtains

There’s not too many rap songs which are awkwardly intimate but thoroughly sexy. Play this one loud and the music will make your skin tingle!

 

6. Deeply affectionate songs about his parents

The exquisite song ‘Ice’ about his mum

The father-son dynamic of ‘Roses & Bluejays’

 

7. The Dirtbike Series

Buck calls this his woodshed demo project, but it’s way more than that. It’s a 3 hour scrapbook of compelling imagery, cracking rap and an encyclopedia of beats.

You can download here for the price of typing in your email address!

He is a troubadour, overflowing with big ideas and driven by the vision to write the perfect song – a song which sticks to you, stays with you, shapes your life. I love his open-heartedness, his wit and his friendliness. He’s a deeply soulful person.

 

Here’s his site

And finally Buck reflects on his 20 odd years as a rapper: