Shad - Boarding Pass EP (with DJ T. LO) 

Released December 1, 2014

By Brendan Tuytel 

I’ve always figured rap to be synonymous with American culture. Perhaps it’s my tunnel vision, but I’ve never been able to appreciate international takes on the genre with the same intensity of American born artists. It’s almost a kind of bigotry holding the incongruity of cultures against them; stating American rap is better solely because of the national ties is selling short the ambition of many artists. Fortunately, rappers like Shad come around and prove me wrong.

Boarding Pass EP is a condensed product; the five tracks only add up to 13 or so minutes. But the lyrical dexterity makes every minute its own analytical process. The intro track, Fire, is a boisterous and boastful track that consistently hits higher benchmarks. It’s indicative of the EP as a whole as Shad has a tendency to try and top each reference and rhyme with the next, having largely successful outcomes. Songs unfold in beautiful  ADD propensity, but there is no deficit of attention to be had.

However, to credit Shad with all the success would be comparable to complimenting the chef for a restaurant while ignoring the interior decorator. DJ T. Lo takes it on himself to give Shad soulful background with which to work resulting in as much cohesion between artists as there is between tracks. Rap can feel like two isolated practices artificially brought together under the guise of an album, but when the beats seep with the identities of all the artists, it provides a special kind of synchronization.

Furthermore, by being a shorter EP, the product is accessible to those who find full lengths and deep discographies daunting. The proficiency is brief, but it’s attentive and engrossing, always triggering a second or third consecutive listen. The only issue I take with the songs is the conclusion. Knock is in a similar vein as Fire, but the ending after the repetition of “I still hear that knock in my dreams/That’s why there’s no stopping my dreams,” just seems to teeter off. They choose to go with an abrupt ending, but it fails to meet expectations as the annunciation of the lines seems to imply some sort of continuation. It suffers from a different kind of incongruity as the song feels like it has an identity that can’t coexist with being a conclusion. It’s a minor complaint, but that emptiness of an unfinished feeling lingers long enough to be bothersome.

As an EP, it’s easy to look past my one petty complaint. The fact that it’s the only thing I can take away as a negative is a statement of the quality in itself. Shad can do incredible things with his eloquent vocabulary; lines feed into each other and rhymes are reprised for a rare kind of continuity. He forces you to linger as much on the previous line as the current which can make the songs unfold best after multiple listens. References still elude me, but the way it’s packaged is beyond phenomenal.

It’s easy to think of American rap when thinking of the genre, but these artists like Shad on the fringes of the culture are versatile enough to add their own experiences and interpretations to the typical tropes. It made me feel like the international rap I’ve pursued are focusing far too much on blending in and it’s refreshing to listen to Shad, the artist with the audacity to stand out.