We’re about due for a good hip-hop concept album. In a world full of real life dotishness locally and abroad, the latest video from Toronto rapper Shad called "The Fool Pt. 3 (Frame of Mind)" is a taste of what could be the kind of challenging record we deserve. Shot by Justin Broadbent, the video is a moving sermon about finding mental and spiritual strength. With Kaytranada’s sweeping yet agile production, Shad’s poetry soothes.
Off his forthcoming album A Short Story About A War, this ambitious project perhaps comes as no surprise from the former CBC host, face of the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning series Hip-Hop Evolution and longtime conscious rapper. The project will explore a range of topics from migration, class warfare, to the economy and environmental issues set in an imagined world at war that follows the character of ‘The Fool’. Now, the term concept album gets thrown around a lot, but Shad is going for a Romantic-era level epic. “The story is based around three warring castes, each with their own culture: Snipers (the upper class, who can kill from the safety of their perches), Revolutionaries (the violent rebellion), and the Stone Throwers (the lowest class, resorting to blind frustrated violence with no real purpose and no way out),” says Shad.
"The Fool Pt. 3 (Frame of Mind)" is about peace. Freedom,” Shad wrote to Noisey about the the new song. “It's meant to be kind of meditative. In the context of the album, it's the last appearance by The Fool character as the record starts to wind down. ‘Frame Of Mind’ reflects on the album's major themes—violence and peace—and finds their root in our inner world. Plus the beat is super dope, shout out Kaytranada!" Watch Shad’s "The Fool Pt. 3 (Frame of Mind)" video along with our chat with the artist below.
When did you initially get the idea for “The Fool Pt. 3”?
As the album started to come together, this song felt like a summation to me—the final, weary but hopeful words from this character that's been holding this radical, peaceful perspective amidst all these songs about violence.
How did you and Kaytranada link up for this project?
We linked up on Twitter actually. I was honoured that he wanted to work together. He has a special gift for giving people certain vibes. I think he's a really important artist, I'm a huge fan.
What is your creative process like with Kaytranada?
He sent over a bunch of tracks and I demoed stuff to a couple joints. In the end, this is one that worked for both of us. The writing came very naturally out of the mood of the track for me; Melodic, hypnotic, meditative.
When during the recording process of this album did you arrive at the idea of ‘The Fool?’
The entire concept/story, including the character of 'The Fool,' came to me all at once a few years ago. There's actually a recurring phrase on the album, "clever men and our violence", that's in a song on my last rap album Flying Colours—because the whole concept came to me towards the end of that recording process, maybe 5 years ago. 'The Fool' is the most interesting character to me. He represents this surprising, hopeful, possibly foolish perspective in a world full of violence. He is maybe the only hope in the story. I've been thinking about him a lot for the last five years.
At what point did this become a concept album? Or did you always know?
From the outset. The goal was to take this story and try to make it come alive musically. I didn't know if I would abandon ship at some point and make something else, but the concept was there from the beginning and it felt worthwhile to try and make it into a record.
What was the concept behind the video?
My goal with the video was mainly to capture the feeling of the song. So we shot some performances with a lot of clouds and a lot of darkness, sometimes spiked with these vibrant colours. That felt right to me. Then [director]Justin had the idea to work with the split frames that reinforced a lot of the ideas in the lyrics.
“Night and day” are constantly cited in the song’s lyrics and reinforced by the split-screen visuals of the video. Why is that an important theme?
"Night and day" to me means more literally like 24-7 but could also mean good times and bad, which relates to the split screens. That whole chorus came out very naturally. I just caught a vibe when I threw the track on and these lyrics came out about trying to gain and maintain a certain vibe and perspective. "Night and day", 24-7.
The final lines of the song are “Can you bear it/ Bear witness to pain, Theirs and Yours/ In silence.” Within the context of the album and ‘The Fool’ character, what does this passage mean?
So that last line to me is about breaking down a certain fear—the fear of pain. I think we're scared of looking at each other's hurt and looking at our own hurt. So we hide from it, we busy ourselves to avoid it, we laugh to avoid it, we hurt others, we keep people at a safe distance, etc. And it all just makes us more lonely and ironically causes more hurt. So 'The Fool' tries to break through that in his last words. Saying what if we could just pause and be present with pain—other people's and our own—and make space for it. Not even try to heal it. Just accept it. What would happen? Would the pain crush us? Or would we find some freedom from it? Find some peace. Maybe the fear of confronting the pain is actually the worst part. That's essentially 'The Fool's' perspective throughout the album; That fear creates an illusion, and that illusion, when we believe it, leads to defensiveness and destruction.
This song is meant to about peace and is the last appearance of the Fool on the album. With that being said do you believe peace is the natural end when it comes to conflict?
I don't think peace is natural at all, unfortunately. 'The Fool' kind of shows how radical peace is and how difficult it is to maintain that kind of posture and perspective in a world that feels a lot like war on every level—economically, socially, environmentally, politically, etc. It seems to me that peace requires so much resistance, persistence, presence of heart and mind. It's almost impossible.
We’ve had a particularly rough summer in Toronto that’s affected many of us, specifically Black youth. When it comes to these issues which caste (Ex. Snipers, Revolutionaries, Stone Throwers) do you see Toronto at large represents?
That's a good question, man. I see them all. I think our default logic is that of 'The Sniper.' That is our society's main economic and social philosophy; you climb as high as you can to gain relatively safety and power. And if you have to hurt a few people from up there, well a) that's just how it is so who can blame you and b) at least you don't have to get too close to the suffering. I think in a major, business-oriented city like Toronto, that's a poignant metaphor to me.
I see the 'StoneThrowers' too in our city. That song is about powerlessness to me, and also about the hypocrisy of the powerful; the more powerful folks in the story see The StoneThrowers as savage and brutal even though they do much less total harm throwing stones than the powerful do with their stronger, more sophisticated weapons. So I see The StoneThrowers as a metaphor for what a lot of Black youth experience here—being grossly disadvantaged in a space where survival in many ways (economically, socially, etc.) can feel, again, like war. Feeling powerless, feeling vilified, feeling a sense of injustice, grieving loss, and feeling the rage of youth further amped up by the conditions of the city. Then the 'Revolutionaries/The Establishment' too, mirror some of the rhetoric I sometimes hear here from opposing sides of the political spectrum. So the whole concept/story is a lens through which I see life here. Even all the construction in the city can look and feel like destruction, like a kind of violence. So there are many, many parallels for me.
The story pretty much describes the chaos I feel and see here, but hopefully offers a way to think about what it might mean to live well in all of it too. About how much all this peace and violence stuff comes down to our very ordinary, everyday relationships and work and the kind of posture and perspective we bring to those. And about fear and how much we let it dictate how we live.
Jabbari is on Twitter.