4.5/5 Stars

Well into his 30s, musician Shad continues to produce quality hip-hop, providing thoughtful insight through his rap as well as exceptionally good production for an initially underground artist. Rising to fame by winning the Rhythm of the Future talent contest, Shad put all his winnings into producing his first album, “When This is Over,” which along with his second album “The Old Prince” gave him an established name in underground hip-hop. A truly self-made artist, much of his initial popularity was a result of his extremely self-depreciating lyrical style. His fourth album, “Flying Colours,” is a further evolution of this style and message and by no means slacks — unlike the mid-career albums of many artists.

Shad opens “Flying Colours” with the creatively named track “Intro: Lost,” reversing the name of the previous album: “TSOL.”  Likely the most powerful track on the album, Shad shines in his prime. He’s introspective and humble but completely aware of his present success.  Lines like “This is real pride in my eyes, it’s not a cocky act” demonstrate that Shad is happy with his success, just over eight years from his debut. The self-depreciation is still there, but now more introspective rather than a sharp critique. He jokes that the album should be called “Food Court,” “[Be]cause I only talk about food, justice and hoop scores.” Lyrically, the album is radiant, upbeat and colorful, a big turnaround from many of the dour tracks on past albums.

These dark critiques are still present on tracks like “Progress,” a twisting of “American Pie” by Don McLean. Like the song it takes inspiration from, “Progress” is about the day the music died, but retold for the current generation. In this case, series of events like the mortgage crisis and World Trade Center attacks are held as defining points in the death of music. The song also critiques current pop music, accusing musicians of never making anything over four minutes and the youth for not having the attention span for anything longer.

Despite stylistic differences from “TSOL,” Shad continues developing on themes he started exploring on that album. For “Flying Colours,” he repeats the phrase “remember to remember” through a few of the songs. Then in the track “Remember to Remember,” he reminds himself and his listeners to remember where they came from, and who they want to be. “Love Means” is another slight departure from the predominantly upbeat album. Stylistically more similar to beat poetry, it dives into the fluid and unpredictable nature of love.

With “Flying Colours,” Shad takes care to show reverence to rap culture itself, despite his deviation from common styles and subject matter. He drops lines that reference the genre’s greats like Run DMC, Drake, Jay-Z, Common, Ice Cube, Biggie and more. Whether or not he’s stylistically similar to them, Shad shows a lot of respect by mentioning competing artists in a positive light.

There aren’t many flaws in the album. Occasionally, Shad sounds like he’s reaching too far for a reference to another artist. The biggest complaint is that the album shifts its tone too much, especially with “Progress.” Previous albums from Shad were much more cohesive, often to a fault. “Flying Colours” strikes a balance between Shad’s old styles and the new tone he takes as an established artist.

For fans of: k-os, Common Market, Blue Scholars, Binary Star, CYNE