Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Oh My Shad!
Self-released, 2015

Originally published at Suburban Apologist 

“What is a rapper without no beef?” -- Shadcore, ‘What!?!’

Rashad Harrell AKA Shadcore seems to have more interest in seafood than in beef.  ‘What!?!,’ the track the above lyric is taken from, finalises it's pure fun colours by heading into a bizarre passage about fish grease in the third act.  It’s enough sealife love to make Mr Scruff politely clap or give Leftfield a natural follow-up club banger to ‘Little Fish’.

Regardless, I have to disagree with the artist here.  Shadcore -- born and bred in St. Pete -- is very much a real rapper, but who could possibly have beef with him?  His warmth and friendliness is undeniable, from his stint as the bubble-bath romance master at Myra Radio (“this is Russel Stover, your late night chauffeur”), to his refusal to use profanity in his music and just generally have a positive outlook on life.  As one fraction of The Real Clash Harrell has fought for unarguably noble causes ranging from typhoon victims long since forgotten in the public eye, to speaking out against domestic violence.

On Oh My Shad! Shadcore takes the diversity of musical influences that we’ve heard from TRC in the last four years and crystalises them.  Beginning with 14 tracks, they were refined into 10 and split into pretty rigid categories. There are three slow songs, three that are mid-tempo and three scorchers (plus an instrumental ‘Segue’).  Shad delves into hip hop soul, hard rock and Fleshtone house without ever sounding like parody or lazy experimentation.  I would have liked hearing more (even the intermission could have been expanded), but there’s no denying the care that’s gone into making this a quality, tight release.

Despite this mixture of styles the album has a great flow to it that compliments the man's smooth delivery.  One binding element is an emphasis on original beats and collaboration (largely with fellow veterans of the MIRA program at SPC).  Beautifully sung choruses hover over firmly planted guitars, drums, keyboards and saxophones. The power-of-music themed ‘One Song’ has a fantastic guest verse from TRC co-conspirator Jay Acolyte.  Shadcore knows he can get your attention right back whenever necessary, so he’s not afraid to let the album breathe. On the specifically breathy and New Amerykah Part Two style ‘Magnets’ (with Cynthia Sao), it’s three minutes before he even makes his entrance.

If this all showcases his love for musical family, his commitment to immediate blood is shown in the lyrics and artwork.  It’s clear that Shadcore is comfortable in the role of a hip hop family-man. Compassion and hope for the next generation is everywhere from the subtle and understanding uplift of ‘PSTA to Escalades,’ to praise for Christina Aguilera’s ‘Beautiful’.  The cover image of Shad as a kid and the opening track ‘Peggy Sue’ both communicate a modesty and rare honesty about the archetypal braggadocio rapper who was once a child himself. At the same time, Rashad’s late dad, who took the cover photo, is dedicated on the label and featured in the family tree collage on the back.  Life has challenges at any age. “Everything comes full circle,” as our protagonist says.

Don’t let any of this fool you into thinking this is a purely mild listening experience though.  While Harrell is shown as a child on the cover he also happens to be holding a toy uzi in New York, à la By All Means Necessary.  His delivery speed and tone fall somewhere between Charlie 2na (fish?) and Killer Mike (a comparison courtesy of Mr. Chuck D).  The trio of apocalypse-sized huge hitters, made up of the title track, ‘Shadzilla’ and ‘What!?!’ will shake you out of any slumber.  Shadcore keeps it on the local street corner with references to the Skyway bridge and the embattled bus system (PSTA), and as I’ve said before, I just love bus references.  And there’s little nods to Dr. Dre, Cypress Hill, A Tribe Called Quest, and uh, George Michael.

I haven’t heard a lot of Shadcore’s older material, but purely going by gut Oh My Shad! has the feel of a magnum opus.  The effort and time that went into it is evident, the scope large, and it’s much preferable to the kind of over bloated rap LP that goes on for way too long.  It’s one of those albums where a different track grabs your attention on each listen, until you get the picture: this is really good. Oh My Shad! won’t make you think of Shadcore as a deity -- but he would probably laugh the idea off if you suggested that it did. 

You can purchase Oh My Shad! here.  Shadcore’s band The Real Clash released their debut album Clash Wednesdays in January.

2018 note: the new album Aux Tales was released in April 2018. Review coming soon!