Representation and roots are the foundation for hip hop. Without representation, hip hop would arguably not exist. Further, with culture, comes language. So when Shadrach Kabango, also known as “Shad,” was born in the early 1980s in Kenya, representation too played an integral part not only in his upbringing as a Canadian citizen, but also as a award – winning hip hop artist. Shad and his family immigrated to Ontario, Canada when he was around one; he was born in Kenya to Rwandan parents. Although he identifies with and is coined a “Canadian artist,” Shad stays grounded in both his Kenyan and Rwandan roots. Shad’s art, which takes form in hip hop music, is known for its ability to transcend borders with topics common across the globe – politics, environment, migration, etc. His socially conscious lyrics are combined with a blend of different genres like R&B and rock – evident in through his Canadian roots, but his main focus and inspiration is hip hop. His lyricism has been highly regarded, in forms of awards like the National Post naming him “best rapper in Canada,” in 2008 and 2010. Additionally, Shad has been nominated for the Polaris Music Prize in 2008, 2010, and 2014.
In 2005, Shad released his debut album When This is Over, which won a number of awards. This album was integral in establishing Shad’s place in hip hop not only in Canada, but in his home countries too. He focused on social changes, specifically in “I’ll Never Understand,” which details the Rwandan genocide. More recently, his last album A Short Story About War, released in 2018, parallels Shad’s ability to be politically and socially relevant by using hip hop as a messenger. This album focuses on a war and is described by Shad as being “a mirror to our world.” Shad is able to tackle seemingly imposing and often controversial topics like politics, migration, and environment, but in his own fashion. Specifically, “The Revolution/The Establishment” stands as a pillar of not only the album, but as a form of representation of Shad’s background, thus ability to convey his story and culture to a larger audience. This song details a war, which can be reflective of any war torn country, but specifically his diaspora: “they make borders, they hate foreigners/ they hate life, they take life/ they take rights and they ain’t right/ but they don’t play and don’t play fight.”
Shad is not only a voice for Canada, but also a voice of representation of both Kenya and Rwanda, showing that diaspora plays an integral part in hip hop and an artist’s ability to convey a message.
Check out Shad’s social media here: