sook yin lee

SHAD: One of the Greatest Emcees, One of the Worst Radio Hosts

Screenshot 2016-04-11 06.42.06

BY: JAMES DIFIORE

When the CBC parted ways with Jian Ghomeshi they were left with a massive hole to fill. Given all the legal woes and the subsequent media storm that engulfed the public broadcaster, executives had some tough decisions to make. First and foremost, they felt it was important to make a real statement with whom they chose to replace Ghomeshi.

Their first move was a show rebrand. I would have paid to be in the room when they settled on keeping the show name but replacing the upper case Q with a lower case q. Not only did it seem like a decision that was drenched in unnecessary humility, but it immediately put the new host into a position of symbolic weakness. It screamed, “This show will not be as good as when Jian was the host, but that’s ok for some reason. Trust us!”

The conventional wisdom would have been to fill the host’s chair with a woman. That decision would have at least been consistent with the image problem the broadcaster and the show had at the time. By replacing an accused (yet ultimately acquitted) abuser with a strong, female voice, the network would have made a statement without having to explain a thing. It would have been universally seen as the right way to move the show forward given the circumstances they were dealing with.

Of course, choosing a nice guy, especially a non-white nice guy, would have also fit within the unspoken CBC mantra. Ghomeshi isn’t white, but he was just white enough for many people to believe he wasn’t a person of colour. But there were also other options like broadcasting veteran Sook Yin Lee, an experienced interviewer on television and radio, and someone who didn’t need any orientation for the role.

However, after 6 months of rotating a slew of temporary fill-in hosts, CBC settled on veteran Canadian hip hop artist, Shadrach Kobango, better known as Shad, to take over the broadcast.

Shad is a glorious lyricist. As an emcee his rhyme schemes and mostly casual delivery make him one of the most listenable hip hop artists in the country. He’s super intelligent, uniquely creative and is already a legend in the sparse landscape of Canadian hip hop.

He was also immensely unqualified to take the helm of the most widely listened to radio program in the country’s history, one that is syndicated in 160 markets south of the border.

Shad has been the host of q for just over a year, and during that time he has had his share of critics. It’s not easy to say since he seems like such a nice guy and all, but he’s extremely boring to listen to. It reminds me of Toronto university radio, where most hosts are very monotone and do not have the authority behind the mic to engage listeners for long periods of time. That spark of greatness Shad carries with him in the recording booth as an artist just isn’t there as a radio personality.

This mediocre reality isn’t entirely Shad’s fault, however. I don’t know how much of the content is determined by his producers, but whoever decides on the locally focused content is dropping the ball. He once had the “I-am-trying-really-hard-to-be-shocking” BuzzFeed pill Scaachi Koul as a guest who yapped about a morning rave she attended that was “full of white people as far as the eye could see,” because I guess that’s what q listeners find interesting? More recently, Shad had a bizarre panel of Canadian musicians who spoke about racism in the music industry. What could have been a compelling, thought provoking 15 minutes was actually a bizarre conversation featuring arbitrary stories that did not include any tangible examples of racism. It just seemed like the show was thrown together without any research or organization by the producers who tried to pass off typical music industry bullshit as serious examples of racial discrimination. One guest cited venue sound engineers who didn’t mix live hip hop well as an example of cultural racism, and Shad seemed all too eager to let his guests skate by without challenging these seemingly benign claims. The segment fell flat, and the Internet let the producers of  know it through the universal theme in the comments section that said “This is what passes for racism? Really?”

One could argue that Shad is a work in progress, but if he is he shouldn’t be saddled with weak content to boot. But hey, CBC is known for keeping horrible programming on-air forever, so even if he has plateaued he might still have a career for years to come.

And if that’s the case then the decision to change the letter ‘Q’ to a lower case ‘q’ isn’t just fitting, it was tragically prophetic.

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