We Spoke to Shad About Canada's Racism Problem

We talked to the talented rapper about the comments made during his time on CBC's Q, the value of black art, and the future of race in Canada

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Feb 13 2015, 5:14pm

“Probably, not great” is the answer Shad casually gives when I ask him about how he fared as guest host for CBC’s radio show, Q. It's not a suprising take, considering the Juno winning rapper's penchant for humour tinged lyrics and introspective honesty, but it's one that comes on the heels of his controversial debut as a radio host. Since Jian Ghomeshi’s more than necessary departure, Q has seen a rotating door of hosts ranging from Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham to Wab Kinew. According to Shad, he was called up by one of the producers for the show randomly. “My philosophy has always been, when someone offers you the opportunity to do something cool you say yes, and it was fun trying to learn something different.” However, some fans of the show we’re not as enthusiastic about Shad's hosting duties, tweeting during his interview with Tre Mission everything from, “I understand why [Jian] is gone but Shad just said ‘Dope’ that’s real intelligent (sarcasm)” to “I appreciate that some people like this ‘music’ but inappropriate here-this is not your audience, never will be.” While the rapper remains light-hearted on the statements of a seemingly vocal minority, he’s not surprised. “I mean one of my biggest concerns before taking on the gig was if I was right for Q’s demographic. I hate to say it, but I feel more embarrassed for those people because it’s such an old timey type of intolerant perception to different cultures and views.” As one of many immigrants that make up the face of Toronto, Kenyan born and Ontario raised Shad is no stranger to illustrating the struggles of cultural identity and social awareness through his music. One issue he’s particularly taken to is the the ill treatment and murder of immigrants in Canada. Particularly, the disturbing report by Maclean naming Winnipeg “Canada’s most racist city” for their alarmingly high rate of crimes against Aboriginal natives. So, does Canada have a racism problem?


Photo By Fabiola Carletti/CBC

Noisey: Before you decided to do the gig were you aware that some people wouldn’t take kindly to you as a host on the show?
Shad:I mean Jian [Ghomeshi] is 47 and has different sensibilities so he’s able to bridge the gap between people my age, his age, and a bit older. So, yeah I kind of just went into is knowing I can only be me on the show and that might alienate people.

For your first show several of the comments made mention of the fact that they didn’t like the music while adding air quotations as if it was something bizarre or different. How did you feel about that?
At this point when I read comments like that it's more…I hate to say it but I kind of feel more embarrassed for those people. It just feels like something someone would say from a couple decades ago.

But it’s not like you’re even the first rap act there. I mean people from Childish Gambino to pretty much everybody has been on that show.
Yeah, they gave Drake a long-form interview and pretty much every artist has gone through that show. Hip-hop has been a thing for a long time and those comments just feel like an old timey kind of like racism or intolerance. It’s just weird.

Do you think some of the comments towards you were inspired by almost like an old guard of cultural elitism where it’s like rap is still not a viable form of music?
Yeah, totally. A friend of mine retweeted the AUX article and I remembering looking through the comments and I saw someone post, “kids these days and their Tupac” and I had to laugh. It’s just embarrassing, like have you not talked to kids in twenty years. Hip-hop had its biggest sales back in 1998. It’s almost amazing that some people are still unwilling to accept it.

In a way it's like we're still operating under this concept that black art isn’t of value?
I definitely think so, it’s just a weird progression rap music is still experiencing. Like any form of music—more specifically black music—the transition from being niche to acceptable hasn’t always flowed and at times the reception has been awkward in terms of public perception. But again, that’s been the case for other forms of art, just look at the depiction of blacks in film. These types of issues are still out there.

Now there seems to be a trend in a lot of the tweets about your interview with rapper, Tre Mission where they say for example, “I appreciate that some people like this music, but inappropriate here - this is not your audience, never will be.” It’s almost like this recurring Canadian stance where we’re afraid to say we don’t like something but snidely remain intolerant of it.
I think that’s the main issue. People obviously have the right to say they don’t like something. For instance, I may not care for opera and that’s totally fair, but what you can’t say is that it doesn’t belong on radio. This is public broadcasting; you can’t choose what qualifies as music, that’s entirely unfair and disrespectful.

Do you think as a society we've taken on this mantra of implicit intolerance especially when it comes to race and culture?
I think there’s been a disturbing regression in terms of our values on multiculturalism and accepting each other. If you were to go elsewhere in the world and ask about Canada it wouldn’t be the same answer they’d give you twenty years ago. I think we have beautiful values in Canada where we don’t have to be under just one religion or culture and I don’t think it’s one we should ever abandon. At the same time I feel like we haven’t pushed forward the values we'd like to think define us. And I say that specifically towards our policies towards immigrants, refugees, temporary migrant worker and not to mention indigenous issues. I think when we look at what’s going on in America by comparison we sit there and say yeah we live in a society where we take care of each other a bit better but I don’t think it’s by much.

In regards to immigration and the treatment of indigenous people what are your thoughts on what’s going on in Winnipeg?
I think it’s the most important issue in our country. I came across an article about a community of aboriginals who were flooded out of their land and we’re forced to move to Winnipeg. And after they found somewhere to stay after in an environment they’ve never lived in they were treated in a hostile manner by their neighbours. I mean how is that not a national crisis? That whole [Winnipeg] situation just upsets me. I’m just glad this conversation is taking off right now.

Do you think we’ll reach a resolution or is it something where it it’s in the news for a couple months, the public stops caring and it reverts back to how it was?
I’m a hopeful person and I like to think if you draw an issue to enough people’s attention they will understand its importance and adopt their hearts and minds into that issue. I think we have to apply more time to all our roles as people in this country and understand that we’re a part of this country. But at the same time understand that we have a responsibility to respect the people who were here first. And I think as those concepts get forced and normalized in people’s minds we’ll start to move in the right direction but it’s definitely taking a lot of conversation for that to happen.

It's funny you say that because I remember overhearing some say that Canada only has racial problems because it laws are racially based and as long as we have laws only applicable to Aboriginal-Canadians we will continue to have race problems?
I want to say that that’s a misunderstanding but if it isn’t that’s really upsetting to hear. I feel people want to ignore race because they want to ignore history, context, and ignore the reason why things are the way they are. But to address that statement I would say that race problems don’t come from acknowledging race and to deal with the issues that arise from these conflicts you have to face [racial issues] dead on not avoid them.

Maybe Canada favours assimilation instead of integration.
I think that’s just the picture of Canadian society. We kind of hang our hats on that idea that we're all together and pat ourselves on the back. Personally, I don’t believe in cultural communities being the same, I don’t believe in individuals being the same, I believe in the freedom to be who you are. I think people can exist but that’s something we have to tend to and care for. Again, if you’re not moving forward then you’re moving backwards.

How do you hold onto hope and maintain a positive attitude in the face of discrimination?
I think being positive helps me get out of bed in the morning and believing that it’s possible [that we can work together]. I also I’ve also been lucky to have had relationships and friendships with so many people from different walks of life. In a lot of ways I’ve met people who have opposing views from me but when you get to know them on a personal level you understand that while you may not agree, they are human beings and they think that way for a reason. At the same time they are also amenable to having their minds changed just like we all can.

The week before you hosted you said that Q is an important program that brings the country together when it’s not always. Is the show still capable of doing that?
I think that it does and I hope that the producers and whoever takes over continue to challenge the audience. Put it like this: there’s a difference between pandering to an audience and serving an audience. I think that serving your viewership involves caring about them and sometimes challenging them and that’s what I hope and believe the show will continue to do.

More importantly what do you think is CBC’s future in the face of a changing audience in terms of colour race and opinion?
I hope they take some bold steps. Again, Q is a show that brings a lot of people together but the problem is you can’t do that all the time. It’s great that CBC has different programming for different people and I imagine it’s quite a challenge to do that when as a channel you have a quota to meet. But I would like to see them grow and be able progressive, to serve more communities and be at the forefront of what is happening in Canada.

Although your time at CBC was brief, do you think your experience at Q and the reactions you’ve seen will inform the future content of your music?
Definitely, I had a lot of fun doing the show and talking to all those different people was great. I talked to people about everything from freestyle battling to opera to child abuse and just seeing Canada on a broader scale so I think that stuff will come out in the music in some way or another. Whenever you get to have these types of conversations I think it’s going to affect your music.

What are some of the projects you’re working on now?
I just put out an EP [Boarding Pass] withDJ T.Lo; my touring DJ and now it’s time to work on a new full length album so I’ve been mixing beats and thinking about what’s next for that project.

I know it’s in the early stages but do you have an idea of the themes you’re going to address on the album?
Themes wise I’m still kind of getting my head around where I want to go next. I think my last album [Flying Colours] was pretty dense philosophically and musically and I feel this time around I’d like to do something a bit more lighter.

Is it going to come out this year?
I’m still trying to figure that out. I hate being that rapper that says that an album’s going to come out and it doesn’t. But yeah, I’ve just been writing mostly and nothing is finished.

On numerous occasions you’ve mentioned the idea of getting into teaching. I want you to imagine for a second you’re in a classroom filled with young minds eager to learn. How would you explain race relations in Canada to them?
The way I would explain it is something I always try to remind people which is to guard against false equivalencies. And what I mean by that is everyone’s experience is quite different and I think it’s important to reinforce the idea that learning by experience is important. There are certain things you can learn from a book and there are certain things you can only learn from living them and I believe to understand someone you have to do more than just pick up a book. So, what I would want to try and reinforce with kids is to talk to each other with open minds and open hearts about your experiences because that’s the only way that you’re really going to learn and get a sense of how things work.

As [Canadians] I think we get intellectually lazy when it comes to race and we try to understand it intellectually when it’s a lived experience. If you want to get a sense of someone’s lived experience you have to humbly approach them and try to enter into their experience. That’s what I would try to key into.

Special thanks to Tamera Campbell for her assistance

@daysandweekes