MCs from the 6 have been popping up like roses in May. When it’s raining. Canada has the United States beat in hockey, healthcare, and … Hip Hop? No, no, rap is still a supremely Yankee American, but with ShaqIsDope’s self-titled EP, our neighbo(u)rs to the north are padding their resumé of outstanding rappers.
Shaq’s follow-up to 2016’s Black Frames showcases a voracious young rhymesayer elbowing his way to a seat at the table with rich rhymes over potent, fundamentally-sound Toronto production provided by the likes of Aaron Bow, Teddy Walton and Cardiak.
Many millennial MCs struggle to set themselves apart from their peers (or put no real effort into doing so). There are only so many ways you can rap about the trap and sound original. Shaq suffers from no such affliction, and not unlike the NBA Hall of Fame center he shares his name (and a track) with, he stands head and shoulders above his peers with cuts that are both hard and vulnerable, edgy and appealing, and energetic and downbeat.
Over haunting, ghostly cries on “All Means,” Shaq invokes imagery of a trap where guns clap because that’s “just the way it is,” only to bow his head and “say a prayer for the kids” in the very next bar. He presents himself akin to the anonymous street soldier who told Nas “Shorty go home, we about to be shootin’,” and in doing so immediately marks himself as both unflinching and admirable.
A sense of duality weaves in and out of ShaqIsDope, from the simmering “New Hope” to the drunkenly reflective “Need You Now.” He details his family’s struggles on the latter: “Preacher reciting the verse/ While I was plotting on collection plates in the church/ ’Cause we was living in debt, and I heard my parents always argue ‘bout the rent.” Lyrics like these take Shaq out of the clouds and put him at eye level with anyone who knows lasting strife.
Like the name suggests, ShaqIsDope’s technical capabilities are as multi-faceted as his content. He kicks the shit out the beat until it dies (word to Curren$y) on “Ble$$ings.” Rhymes like, “I remember times I was depressed as hell, thinking I wanted to die/ But the only thing committing suicide, is the doors on the ride,” ensure it doesn’t matter that Big Sean, Chance The Rapper and Lecrae all released hit records of the same name within the past few years.
Shaq also proves himself a capable crooner, and shows off mainstream sensibilities on “The Things.” The joint finds him alternating between boastful sex raps and relatable musings about the dating game over stop-and-go drums and spacey, 6-ified production. However, Shaq’s melodic aspirations also hinder his originality and come outta nowhere after the short project kicks off with such urgency.
The emo-trap beat and his echoing hook on “Like a Drug” sound too much like a VIEWS throwaway to stand tall against the other six tracks. From an artistic standpoint, Shaq is remarkable and unique, but if songs such as “Like a Drug” are what reach mainstream ears, he’ll come off as a Drake-a-like and may get lost in the iPhone shuffle.
The scenario where Shaq goes the way of an inferior knockoff, à la Glen “Big Baby” Davis, seems an unlikely one. ShaqIsDope shows an artist talented, profound and determined to make his mark in the rap world.