Up-and-coming Toronto rapper ShaqIsDope has been steadily developing his sound.
A rappers’ rapper and the consummate hustler, ShaqIsDope has parlayed his time in quarantine into a record that feels almost claustrophobic. Dark Days Ahead riffs on distrust as relationships go belly-up, and the streets are watching for any slip-ups.
It feels like the weight of the world is on his shoulders. “Friend or foe, let me know what you are,” he raps on “Pressure.” ShaqIsDope knows that his moves are being watched.
With the spotlight on him, ShaqIsDope is out to show and prove he deserves his spot amongst the city’s buzziest rappers. He’s been on the radar of music journalists for some time but is now looking to translate that into more mainstream acceptance.
The introspective Toronto MC sat down with Complex Canada to reflect on the past challenging year and why his album was about letting go.
The new project is called Dark Days Ahead. Obviously there’s been a lot going on in both your personal life, since you’re dropping an album, and in the world, as everyone is dealing with a pandemic. How are you and how are you feeling?
I’m actually in a very good headspace right now. At the beginning of the pandemic things were gloomy for me. But I ended up figuring things out and taking my music in a different direction, and figuring out new things that I wanted to do. As of right now, I’m just staying very positive and looking forward to the New Year.
To name your album Dark Days Ahead, I feel like you have to have a certain mindset. What was your headspace going in?
Going into the project my headspace was very negative to tell you the truth. There was just a lot of things going on with my personal life and certain situations that I was dealing with like family things, relationship-wise when it came to love. At the beginning of the pandemic, when that whole thing hit too, it slowed down a lot of my plans. I was kind of in a really dark place. That kind of set the whole [vibe] of the project and the first creative process.
"I’m a person that likes to tell the truth in my music."
I hear influences of artists like Drake, Jay-Z, and J-Cole. What is it about these particular artists that inspire you?
The thing about those artists that inspire me is the way that they are able to really connect with their audience and get really personal in their lyrics. I’m a person that likes to tell the truth in my music. I feel like that’s the best way to connect with your fanbase. The way they do that, to me, is incredible and those are artists that I study all the time to try and elevate my craft.
What are you currently listening to right now?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Benny the Butcher, Freddie Gibbs, and I’ve been listening to a lot UK-rap as well like Headie-One. Things of that nature.
Throughout your music, there have been themes of religious and spiritual belief and you chose to open up your album with that. How do your religious or spiritual beliefs inform your music?
They definitely play a big part of my music. For me, I have a belief in a higher power. I feel like this gift for music that I have, came natural to me—there was no real way to explain it. I really felt like this supernatural being gave me this gift and ability to create music. So I always try to put that in my music and express it to let my fans know this is what I believe and this is why I make the music that I make.
So hearing the album, I’m listening to an artist who is feeling the weight of the world is on their shoulders. There are themes of love, loss, paranoia, and betrayal. I think every guy goes through an experience of unrequited love at least once in their life. But as an artist it hits different. It can have negative mental health implications. So talk to me about the thoughts going through your head while writing a song like “No One Else." How is your mental health and are you taking steps toward self-care?
Definitely. Definitely. “No One Else” actually came about [because] I was involved with this woman and we talked for like a year and a half, almost two years, and she went back to her ex-boyfriend on me twice [sic]. The reason why that situation hit so hard for me was because that was the first I let myself be fully vulnerable with a woman, and I was able to actually fall in love for the first time ever in my life. At first, dealing with that heartbreak, I’ll tell you the truth, it was very hard on me mentally. Even physically too. My body just didn’t feel right. It just took a whole toll on me when things didn’t work out.
Now, fast-forward down the line, I’m in a way better mental space. I took the time to take the self-care and read a lot of books on love and healing. I think the best thing I took from that situation was not hold a grudge. I feel like when you hold a grudge, you’re just never going to get past certain situations in your life. You don’t really get the blessings that you want for yourself. I think mental health, when it comes to heartbreak and losses, is one of the biggest things. It can definitely ruin you if you’re not trying to take the steps [toward self-care]. It’s OK to fall but you just gotta make sure you rise back up to the occasion and just keep moving.
Is there one song on the album that really speaks to you?
It’s a tie between “In the Morning” and “M.S.D.F.”
Congrats on the album. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I just want to let the people know I got new merch coming real soon. New campaign with another big brand. Stay tuned for 2021. I definitely got some bangers ready to go after this project. Stay tuned.