Always Winnin’

Canadian rapper Shad discusses his many roundball references.
by August 07, 2014


Rafael Araujo has been lampooned in many basketball circles, but there is likely only one person who’s scored off him in a song lyric.

The draft bust of all Toronto Raptors draft busts—eighth overall in 2004; 139 career NBA games—is just one of a heavy handful of basketball stars to be name-dropped in song by London, Ontario-raised rapper Shad, the Canadian emcee whose love of hoops is regularly woven into lyrics that have garnered him a growing following that considers him the real face of up-north hip hop.

“When I’m writing I repeatedly edit words and rework tracks/I’ll admit I’m like the Raptors, I got weak first drafts/So when I’m dropping a new flow/It’s probably not all that solid at first post/You might call it Araujo.” — “Compromise”

Shad, who holds two degrees, including a Masters from Burnaby, B.C.’s Simon Fraser University, is the rapper Canadians really want you to know about. A high school baller who knew early on there were pursuits in life for which he was better suited, Shad has been sprinkling his second love in his lyrics since he first started making records in 2005 when he debuted with his self-made When This Is Over.

In “Real Game”, Shad is heard going back and forth with B. Green in the context of two friends—one black, one white—riffing on the races of each other’s hoops heroes. From McHale versus Worthy, to Stockton and Payton. Shad quips: “There they go again/Whenever I’m talking ball with a white friend/he gotta pipe in/Talking ’bout, “I miss how they used to play in Cousy’s day.”

One of Shad’s most recent offerings co-opts the beat from Drake’s “Draft Day” and laces it with roundball references from Ed O’Bannon to Andrew Wiggins, and even lands a well-aimed shot directly at the hypocrisy of the NCAA.

Shad recently agreed to talk hoops with SLAM, with his lyrical concoctions as the jump off. (This interview took place prior to the NBA Draft—Ed.)

SLAM: Have you wanted to work Andrew Wiggins in to a lyric for a bit?

“Bringing skills like Wiggins to the Fieldhouse/Catch him when his frame fills out.” — “MGD” (Draft Day Dub)

Shad: I think it’s been on my mind for a while, but Wiggins isn’t the best rhyming word. It’s exciting to have a prospect like that, especially being Canadian.

SLAM: What did you make of his year at Kansas?

Shad: Yeah, it’s kind of hard to tell. I think it was a little bit underwhelming for everybody, but…I think scouts are still pretty high on him even if [Jabari] Parker maybe had a bit of a better year. It was kind of disappointing seeing a lot of those freshmen not go further in the Tournament. I’m still pretty hot on him. When he puts some meat on to handle the banging in the NBA, I think he’ll be great.

SLAM: If you were a GM, would you have grabbed him at No. 1?

Shad: I would. I think he has the most upside. It depends on what you need, but I think he has the most upside, for sure.

SLAM: What’s your stance on the paying college kids debate?

“If Coach K is getting millions, then shoot/then the kids should be getting millions to hoop/You know that’s generating millions for Duke, right?/Too bad I’m still in the booth/I’d be in courtrooms appealing, getting deals for the youth.” — “MGD” (Draft Day Dub)

Shad: It’s just part of a much bigger problem. Especially since a lot of these guys aren’t even graduating, it really is just a minor-league sport with big money kind of thing. It’s just something that needs to be addressed. It’s just pretty blatant at this point. How much the NCAA is making and how much these schools are making and a lot of the kids aren’t really getting an education.

I think it’s a little bit silly, you know? Wiggins is going to play in the NBA, he’s a special basketball player. Having an education is great and it’s well-rounded, but especially when you get into the licensing rights and the long-term residual incomes, it’s just not a fair deal.

SLAM: Gasol or Sabonis—who would you choose to start your team with?

“This is vintage Lithuanian Sabonis ball/This is poet Paul Pierce, this is Flow Gasol/Princeton offense pen game know-it-all. You’re just a Tim Donaghy ref that’s blowing calls.” — “Koko B. Ware”

Shad: I’d go Sabonis. To me he’s the greatest talent ever from Europe. But now you’ve got guys like Tony Parker and all sorts of incredible players, but yeah, I still think you go Sabonis No. 1. I always thought his game was so hilarious, too, because he was such an oddball in the NBA.

His skill set and size was just kind of insane. It was pretty amazing to watch him at 35, with his knees completely gone, still being able to be one of the better centers in the League. He was such an interesting player to watch with his passing skills and the way he played the game. It was so different from the NBA style, but he could really do it.

SLAM: What are you going for in this line? 

“They say LeBron should have never left his hometown/I say slow down, we’re talkin’ about draft picks/Reporters and lawyers still talkin’ about practice/Meanwhile, we’re just trying to keep out of caskets.” — from Mr. J. Medeiros’ “Pale Blue Dot”

Shad: I think what I was saying with that line is we’re talking about sports when there’s bigger things going on in the world. Like [Kevin Durant] said in his MVP speech, sports is a great platform for inspiring people. I think that’s a great perspective to have and there’s so much good there, but our attention can be on the wrong things. Even in sports, our attention can be on the wrong things like Allen Iverson’s just trying to point out that.

SLAM: Who’s the three guys you’d pick to be your end-of-game killer?

“In the fourth I’m ill as Billups, Worthy and Bird and Reggie Miller.” — “Koko B. Ware”

Shad: I think you’ve gotta go with MJ, Bird and either Miller or Kobe. I kinda go on the theme of who I would most fear when they had the ball and I think those are the guys. Those are the guys when they had the ball in the fourth quarter, if they got a look it was going down.

SLAM: Did you like the Sonics back in the day?

“Dentine fresh and K.P. & Envyi/on my northwest Shawn Kemp, Detlef Schrempf steez.” — “Koko B. Ware”

Shad: I wasn’t a big Sonics fan, but at that time I was probably cheering for the Bulls. I like pulling out some of the more obscure references.

SLAM: Do you have faith the NBA will return to the northwest again?

Shad: I really hope so. I think there’s a fanbase there and, watching these Playoffs, fans in Vancouver and Seattle watching their old teams play some pretty exciting ball has got to be pretty disappointing.

SLAM: Can DeMar be The Guy for Toronto?

“This is rap for the Raps fans/DeRozan on the break over breaks.” — from Lushlife’s “Gymnopedie 1.2”

“Shad K, all-star like DeMar when my Raps play.” — “MGD” (Draft Day Dub)

Shad: It looked like [Kyle] Lowry became that guy. I don’t know. Lowry might kind of bring that culture, the way he’s tough and forces the issue and kind of forces the ball down the throat of the defense. That might rub off on DeMar, but it was cool to see Lowry step into that role. I think it comes down to who’s going to want the ball in those moments and be the guy.

SLAM: What was the problem in Houston? Is it James Harden?

“I’m Paul Wall in ’05 and I’m car pollution/And I’m James Harden hoopin’, all meaning I’m a problem Houston” — “Epilogue: Long Jawn”

Shad: I think he’s a problem for defenses, but he’s also problematic on defense. He’s a cool player. He’s very interesting. I like his style, very unique. That whole Rockets team maybe relied too much on having Dwight back there but, yeah, they’re not the toughest defensive team.

SLAM: The 1992 Dream Team vs 2012 Olympic team got a lot of debate. What’s your take?

“You know the Dream Team, right? I’m like eight of ‘em/But my squad doesn’t rep the States, Canadian.” — “Raw”

Shad: I think the big thing with the ’92 team is Bird was not what he used to be. I think if you had Bird at full strength, I think you’d give the edge to the ’92 team at that point. Without Bird at full strength, I don’t know, it becomes tough. The original Dream Team would definitely have it in the frontcourt, but the backcourt and the wings is pretty strong now.

SLAM: You believing the hype that Canada can medal in one of the next couple of Olympic cycles?

Shad: I think we have the talent, for sure but other countries are also stepping up. I think with Wiggins, Thompson, I think we’ve got a talented team. We have to stick together a bit longer. Some of the other countries have had their roster and guys playing together for a long time and I think that might be a bigger obstacle at this point.

It’s fun to be able to turn on March Madness—which I would watch anyways—and not only see Canadians on the rosters, but be stars. That’s a lot of fun. Very exciting.

Shad had a four-stop US mini-tour in that hit Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. He has not announced any further American dates, but will play Victoria and Squamish, B.C., as well as Kingston, Ontario, as part of his tour of summer music festivals. He was also announced as one of the acts that will perform in the concert that will open the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg in September. Find out more on his website.

David Larkins is a Winnipeg-based writer who has covered news, sports and entertainment in Canada for radio and print for two decades. He’s a die-hard Lakers fan and a former member of the official Magic Johnson fan club, who grew up on the voices of Dick Stockton and Tommy Heinsohn.