Shortlist shortcut to Shad's Tao

The rapper on how 'Out of Touch' represents both the harsh reality and exuberant joy of his Polaris-shortlisted album.

The rapper on how 'Out of Touch' represents both the harsh reality and exuberant joy of his shortlisted album

'Joy is very important to my music,' says Shad. (Courtesy of artist; design by CBC Music)

To help music fans get to know the 10 Polaris Music Prize-nominated albums, CBC Music presents the Shortlist Shortcut series. Every week, we will ask a nominated artist for a recommended track off their shortlisted record. Perhaps it's a song that best represents the themes on the album, or maybe it's the most important, difficult or rewarding song they wrote. The question was left to the artist to interpret, but the hope is that the selected track will give us a pathway into their work. 

To kick off this series, we spoke with rapper Shad, who has now become the most shortlisted musician in Polaris history with five nods.

Shad on 'Out of Touch'

For Shad, there is no greater gateway track into his sixth studio album, Tao, than its opener, "Out of Touch." As a tone-setter and thesis statement, "Out of Touch" was purposefully written as an introduction to the themes on the album. 

"The album to me is all about connection to different things that make us human," Shad tells CBC Music, listing the environment, technology and our relationship to work as just some of the ways in which he has noticed our society growing increasingly disconnected.

Writing over a beat by longtime collaborator and producer Ric Notes, Shad wanted to approach the track in the simplest way possible, adding, "I didn't add anything to it, musically. I just wanted to do it raw, and do it in an way where I have to fit with Ric's arrangement." In the end, Shad says some sections were altered, but that Ric Notes's framework stayed intact as he and guest vocalist Phoenix Pagliacci (of TRP.P) worked their voices into the track's grooves and nooks. 

Ideas of a disconnected society are, admittedly, not light observations — and they're concisely hammered home on Pagliacci's soulful hook: "My, how we've come a long way/ but it seems we're headed in the wrong way" — but Shad isn't afraid to shy away from the truth. Shad's music, at its best, contrasts hard-to-swallow facts with a bright buoyancy that lightens the mood. 

"Joy is very important to my music," he explains. "It's how I feel about music, and it's how I feel about people, so I always try as much as possible to infuse my music with that energy. It's part of what made me fall in love with music.... As much as my music is still a place where I sort out a lot of my feelings and ideas about the world, it's also a place where I want to connect in a joyful way." Plus, in the case of the bouncy "Out of Touch," Shad says it's important that an album opener be warm and inviting, to draw a listener in. 

When he was writing Tao, which was completed before the arrival of COVID-19 in North America, Shad had no way of knowing just how prevalent these themes of connection would become. "The pandemic just added another layer of meaning to it," he adds, describing the way in which world events "hit the gas pedal" on the aspects of life that he was writing about. "It's made the album feel even more urgent and even more timely, I guess, even though the themes are hopefully not evergreen."   

"Out of Touch" opens with Shad telling us to "get in touch," and while he never provides any concrete solutions on how, it's his hope that listening to the album will encourage us to look inward, dig deeper and find some helpful insights about ourselves and the world at large. 

It took Shad many years to concede that his music had a message, but it finally clicked in his mind that it was something simple that he kept reiterating over and over again on all his albums: "I think that message is hope. I think that's my message because that's what I need to hear." 

For more Polaris Music Prize coverage, head to CBCMusic.ca/Polaris. You can also tune in and listen to The Ten, a Polaris Music Prize radio series where host A. Harmony takes us through each nominated album, track by track, every week until Sept. 18. The Ten will air on CBC Music every Sunday at 6 p.m. ET (6:30 p.m. in Newfoundland).    

The 2022 Polaris Music Prize gala will take place on Sept. 19. (CBC Music, Polaris Music Prize)