Shad - The Old Prince [reissue] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


The Old Prince [reissue] (2009)

Black Box

Titling your record The Old Prince is an interesting move, because while it places the album in the familiar hip-hop language of MC braggadocio in comparing one's self to royalty, it already offers an intriguing level of contradiction. Upon spinning this record it might seem like a rather ordinary album of an underground rapper making social commentary over soul-influenced production. Nevertheless, Shad does challenge some fairly common assumptions in some subtle yet effective ways. Shad's flow and wordplay are as confident as a veteran MC but it isn't all showing and proving here as The Old Prince offers a lot of questions as it explores ideas of maturing and personal growth.

The requisite intro joint is an actual song rather than a useless bit, featuring a couple of verses that serve to introduce both Shad's skills on the mic. The song serves as an introduction to his character as well as the themes discussed elsewhere on the album, such as spirituality and search for fame. "I Don't Like To" kicks things off proper with a nice instrumental by producer Mantis, utilizing a twinkling piano cascading over shuffling drums that reminds me of something the Mountain Brothers would spit over. Shad's first verse finds him in battle mode dropping amusing punchlines. The second verse, however, takes an unexpected turn focusing on illegal downloading and adapting and changing as an artist to fill that change in environment:

iTunes, eye-patch
I'm in the same boat where the pirates be
Tell'em I'm down with that pirate stee
They don't buy it, I say don't buy it -- pirate me
If it's ill, it'll spread virally
From my received folders to
Appearin' in the love that the crowds show
(shhh) if it sound dope -- keep it on the downlo(ad)
Keep it real, player / Real Player
With the volume cranked
And I'll be ballin like Tim Duncan - callin bank […]"
The verse really showcases one of the quirks of Shad's rhyme style in his preference for playing homophones (or near homophones) off of each other. There is a fantastic self-reflexive quality in his use of changing words to fit unexpectedly into a technological lingo and his expression of the artist's need to grow and change in the content of his bars.

It is kind of funny Shad should mention something going "viral" in that the concept of the video for the album's single, "The Old Prince Still Lives at Home" seems like something out of a YouTube viral video craze with him placing himself into the role of Will Smith's character of the opening credits of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The song itself is equally funny, Shad rapping verses about a man-child living with his parents way past his prime. Hilariously, the beat cuts out partway through and Shad explains that he couldn't afford the whole beat and finishes that last verse with hand claps:
If you happy when you save 2 dollars a week
You steal your neighbors empty bottles
And keep all your receipts and only treat your girl
Yearly to McDonalds to eat
Don't be ashamed, pop your collars man - holler at me!
If ya'll are this cheap [...]"
Whether like in "The Old Prince…" Shad tackles lethargy, laments the struggle of black youth in a society that shows them limited options culturally in "Brother (Watching)" or talking about the poor state of his love life in "Out of Love Pt.2", he does so with a sharp wit and careful attention to detail. Although there is a different producer for each track, that same attention to detail carries over to the production. Each song is interesting enough to stand out on their own, but supports the overall vibe of the album like the drum-driven "Exile" or the beautiful piano and string arrangement on "Three Years (Interlude)." This one of the finest hip-hop debuts I've heard in some time and one of the best albums I've heard in awhile period.