This Canadian is an award-winning rapper in his homeland — his 2011 album TSOL earned a Juno for Rap Recording of the Year, beating out Drake’s Take Care. But in the U.S., he hadn’t drawn much notice until he began hosting Netflix’s rap history series Hip-Hop Evolution. His new album is typical of his thought-provoking work: It’s a concept piece about the ways in which humanity tears itself apart through conflict, whether physical, spiritual or economic, and creates environmental catastrophe in the process. The music is airy, ambitious and typical of Aughts orchestral pop-rap; one standout number is “The Fool (Pt. 2) (Water),” which matches a plaintive piano melody over a soulful rhythm and a vocal hook by guest Steven Mulcare. But the focus is on Shad’s words, and a plain-spoken flow that occasionally swerves into a teacher’s voice and earnest spoken-word verses like “Intro: Sniper.” Another excellent cut is the hip-hop jazz of “Another Year,” where he trades rhymes about life in Toronto with Ian Kamau and Eternia.
“They can’t kill us ‘cause they can’t see us ‘cause they only see fear,” harmonizes Shad over the jaunty stride piano of “The Fool, Pt. 1 (Get it Got it Good).” Even when he portrays a youthful “Sniper” navigating a dystopian world that bears eerie similarities to our own, his optimism can’t help but shine through. Some might find that his positive attitude undercuts his lyrical breakdown of our global system – certainly, the overwrought laptop beats of tracks like “Magic” don’t help. But for the rest of us, A Short Story About War is an intriguing slice of postmillennial agit-hop.