On July 15th, 2016, the world was introduced to Your Boy Tony Braxton. The surprise record from cherished Canadian indie label Arts & Crafts sounds as if it was forgotten somewhere in 1993 as our mystery man pours his heart out over sweet guitar solos and snappy saxophone interludes. Just who is this adorable flirt?
Turns out, our boy is none other than beloved rapper and former host of CBC Radio’s Q, Shadrach Kabango (better known as Shad). The album, Adult Contempt, is a remarkable transition for the musician in that it is a total departure. Ditching rapping for smooth singing and pulling directly from the archives of perennially un-hip artists like Paula Abdul, Bryan Adams, and Terence Trent D’arby, Adult Contempt is an amalgamation of nostalgia, unperturbed by time.
“I don’t really know if there was a way to prepare people who are aware of my music of how different this is, so it was kind of going to be a surprise no matter what,” Kabango says over the phone. The Canadian rapper has been steady on the scene since his 2005 debut album When This Is Over, known for his lyrical, thoughtful musings on the world and his place in it. Adult Contempt, however, ditches those cleverly constructed songs for something more playful but equally honest.
The album began with Kabango in his apartment, playing around with his guitar—a fitting beginning for a record with lyrics that feel as if they were lifted from the mind a 13-year-old boy. “It started with just dipping my toes in at first, and then at a certain point it was like, ‘Yeah, let’s just go all in with this: get the guitar solo, get the saxophone, let’s really do it,’” he explains. “Which is what you have to do with something like this. You can’t go half way.” Recorded with friends in his hometown of London, ON, the album really does go there—bringing together a mix of strumming guitar, sax and horns, and peppy background vocals.
The tracks are a category-bending mix of influence, recalling simpler times when the radio was a teenager’s main source of music. “One thing my friend said when we were recording was that these songs are like songs that went to Number 40,” he laughs. It’s true, but in the best way possible. References have been made to genre-less nostalgia players such as Blood Orange and Frank Ocean, but Kabango’s own brand is decidedly less hip, not vying for the top of the charts. “There are no new influences,” he reflects. “There’s no point in making it palatable in terms of making them more contemporary.”
Tracks such as “All I Think About Is You” waver into the cheesy, to be rescued only by the sincerity with which Kabango sings lyrics like, “I’m in the middle of the pouring rain / nothing seems to change / all I think about is you”. The artist, however, is well aware of this fine balance. “I love lyrics like that. That’s something that I love that you can’t do with hip-hop,” he says. “Hip-hop is just the poetic kind of tradition, at least what I was influenced by; it’s just a lot more dense and sophisticated, and part of the fun of it is just talking slick and talking smooth. But I really love pop songs that are just sweet and super sincere.” Certainly not poetic, the songs of Adult Contempt retain potency nonetheless, if only in a more juvenile sense. “The one example that always comes to mind is ‘Higher Love’ by Steve Winwood,” Kabango says, recalling his more direct influences. “He’s being philosophical, but like Grade 10 philosophical. But it’s still true.”
For those in their twenties and thirties, Adult Contempt’s particular decade of reference is bound to bring up some awkward, uncomfortable memories. “Fall (girl)”, which sings the pains of the end of a summer romance when autumn comes, could be particularly tender for those longing for that long-lost summer camp fling. “For me, part of the fun was going to these feelings,” says Kabango. “I go back to Grade Four or Grade Five, when I heard these songs and I didn’t know what I was feeling when I heard them—I just liked it. And now when I listen to these songs I still feel that feeling, and I don’t know if it’s good or bad. It just makes me feel weird.” It seems Your Boy Tony Braxton has no qualms about feeling whatever you’re feeling, no matter how strange. And you can get down to that.
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