Published on July 31st, 2020 | by Jerry Doby0
Who Is Rising Star Shah?
Shah (Photo Credit David Quiroga)
Shah is an emerging rapper out of Atlanta who you may have heard over the past few years. Since moving from Toronto to the ATL region he has been taken under the wings of producers and radio personalities that have boosted his name and singles like “Just Text” and “Telemundo”. With a massive presence in clubs, radio and streaming playlists, Shah has performed at Mondo, A3C, SXSW and earned coverage by Buzzfeed and other credible media. He was named by Complex as “Trap’s newest star” and today he released his newest single “Cracks” on Spotify and Apple Music. Atlanta tastemakers like DJ Swamp Izzo have cemented his Atlanta credibility, placing him alongside the likes of Gucci Mane, Future and Migos.
We sat down with Shah to learn more about his music and what makes Shah the future of Trap music in Atlanta and beyond.
You just released your new single “Cracks”, tell us about the track and what it’s about
There’s a story that leads up to this song. One of the things that brought me success in Atlanta at the beginning was my appearance, coming out of nowhere this guy that’s not from the streets that’s now taking off in the streets. It was just that shock value and overall appearance that helped trigger my wave through what’s known in Atlanta as smoke and mirrors. This was achieved through Just Text, my breakout single. After that time I continued to make similar music – which is basically turn up music – and that continued with Telemundo, which was my first viral song that was recorded along with a couple of the tracks I’ve been holding on to which are built for bigger success.
But then as an artist, my creations are driven by my emotions, which can’t be controlled. So I have these recordings that are a lot darker and speak on experiences that I hadn’t put out there as of yet. I was trying to maintain this perfect image and thus the saying smoke and mirrors comes into play. I believe most artists are trying to maintain that ideal lifestyle perception online, but that’s now how life works. Especially in 2020. With Cracks, the reality just clicked that I have to be honest and vulnerable with my fans. If I’m making this music, this music is 110% me. I know this isn’t a conventional single but this is who I am and this is where I’m at.
Music is probably one of the most important things getting people through the pandemic, what is your take on making music in 2020 so far?
So far my 2020 can be broken up into 2 parts – first the anticipation of the year which was January and February leading up to SXSW in Austin in March and the second the pandemic and aftermath of those changes. The same way that 2017 was my breakout year in Atlanta, 2020 was looking to be the breakout year nationally for me. Beginning with SXSW week, my southeast tour following that, and leading into the summer festival season. The second part of 2020 is what we’ve all experienced, the pandemic. I believe people are still taking this all in, and as artists we’re still trying to figure out what to do next.
While music is obviously the driving force in the success I was anticipating, my music has had a lot deeper of an impact and allowed me to more deeply connect with fans. The main reason is the vibe of songs I’ve been putting out (Cracks, Finale, and Demons) and all have been darker tracks that deal with controversy. I know the connection has been there through the fans directly letting me know this is what they need right now. Overall, there’s obviously been a lot less fan interaction without being able to do shows, so it’s nice to be able to get that reinforcement from fans online and through social media.
I noticed “Cracks” has a darker tone than some of your other singles, is there a reason this and perhaps other songs you have coming up are taking this direction?
I know that putting out more music is something I need to do, and I’ve been sitting on all this music that’s not really single material which makes it easier to just put out there. Some of those darker tracks are ones like Cracks, Demons, and Finale. There are a lot more songs like this and it’s just a matter of deciding how I want them to come out. Without being able to work a record in the clubs it was a natural fit to just put out my darker songs on streaming services. Whatever happens with those tracks, I’m totally cool with. No agenda, just creating music that speaks from the soul and hoping the fans connect.
You just won music.com and Sony’s 500 Artists, tell us about that
Yes music.com selected 500 independent artists to tell the story behind their latest single. Me and my story for Demons ended up winning, voted on by the public. One of the things that came from that is having my music mixed in Sony’s 360 technology.
Now more than ever people are standing up for injustices against minorities, including efforts Black Lives Matter and others. Have you been involved in any protests or organized efforts to play your part? How does your music play a role?
I’ve been involved in protests in Canada and Atlanta. I think this call for justice is long overdue but it is relieving to see police being called out on a wider scale. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve recognized the inequality in our society when it comes to race as well as gender. These are our society’s biggest injustices. But seeing protests against police on this scale does give some reason for hope. So what’s needed now is leadership for this process of change.
As far as my music, the political and social references are done very artistically, abstractly, and subtly. I’m not a political rapper, I don’t think people even consider me a conscious rapper. I appreciate that sort of music a lot, and it used to be the main form of music I listened to. But it’s really only my most hardcore fans that are able to dig out the political references.
From a cultural background perspective, do you find that being of Indian descent has helped you stand out as an artist in any unique way? Does your heritage play any role in the stories behind the music or your passion for creating art? I know you were named one of the top 10 South Asian artists in the world
I think my heritage for sure defines who I am. My family is my biggest blessing in life and my revolutionary qualities come from my family and my dad. In terms of helping me in music, in rap people are in general first supported by their community. But for me, it was the streets of Atlanta that supported me first. Even though I’ve been recognized as one of the top 10 desi artists in the world, I haven’t yet seen that flood of brown fans that we know is coming.
I’m not willing to exploit my culture. I can remember conversations with some marketing/branding type white guys who would tell me to bring in all the Indian gimmicks. Beyond that coming across as exploitive, doing that shit is lame. So at this point, there’s so many people that dont even know that I’m brown. But on the upside, I do have an active desi fanbase in the UK and India. Realizing this potential is exciting because it can finally give me the advantage that I haven’t capitalized on yet.
You had some great luck with “Telemundo” going viral on social media and “Just Text” becoming your biggest song to-date. Tell us more about the songs and how they have impacted you to-date.
For Just Text without getting too deep into the details, that is personally an experience of turning a rock bottom moment into a positive. The rock bottom moment ended up inspiring the hook of Just Text. Fast forward a few months and Just Text broke open the doors for me in Atlanta.
Telemundo has shown me a couple things – the power of patience and loyalty. For patience, I’d been wanting to drop Spanish bars or do something in Spanish for a couple years. Almost as long as I’ve known [my producer] Eddy Beethoven I’ve been wanting to do something Spanish. I definitely rock with the culture, especially Dominican culture, but not at the risk of forcing it. Similar to what I mentioned about bringing in Indian culture, it needs to be done correctly and at the right time.
From when I realized there was a moment with something Spanish, so many songs popped off and it became a huge wave. Part of me thought I’d been sitting on this for so long, should I have pulled the trigger? When the moment finally arrived, it was at Eddy’s NY studio. There was a video of the response of these shocked Dominicans when I was rapping in Dominican slang that ended up getting picked up by World Latin Star that kickstarted the video going viral, then after that Dominican influencers picked it up. Where the patience ended up paying off was spending those years with Eddy and other Dominimans, learning the slang. Without that then Telemundo wouldn’t have had that same response, the same authenticity. It was completely a team effort. It was led by Eddy, but then we had Bwoy,Leven who’s my producer, that didn’t even produce this track, who was helping quarterback the campaign in Spanish. The producer is actually Wealstarr from Paris who just gave me free reign to let the song flourish.
Eddy Beethoven has worked with Soulja Boy, Steve Aoki and Prince Royce. How did you both connect and what has it been like working with him?
The core members of my team are some of my biggest blessings in life. That includes Eddy who I’ve known since 2013 when we were both living in Washington Heights. When I first met Eddy I was definitely an ameteur in this. From getting my beats, to recording, to how the final vocals sounded, all of that was figuring it out. Eddy has played a bigger role than any other person in those pieces coming together. So now, I can record on almost any half decent set up and I know that if I can get those vocals to Eddy, he’ll be able to mix them and make them pro. The other names he’s been working with show you Eddy’s talent, but also how hardworking he is.
I don’t know too many people that bust their ass like I do, but Eddy is one of them. And that’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to vibe. More than just the talent and drive, what’s allowed us to build this brotherhood is his loyalty. In the music industry loyalty can be very fleeting. But when you can depend on someone’s word and someone’s ability to get the job done, then as an artist it totally opens me up to being able to do the next thing. Project boys for life.
You are a huge fan of canvas art and collecting, do you have any unique pieces you can tell us about?
I do collect art. My relationship with art began in LA where the street art community took me in, showed me a lot of love and gave me an appreciation for that art form. When I first started collecting, it was actually more of a way of settling debts or holding something to ensure future payment. But then I ended up enjoying the collection and the pieces I was collecting were rising in value. I went deeper and deeper into the art world.
The most fascinating piece is probably one I obtained from a very well known NY institution that acquires historic art, including artifacts. When a curator from there learned of my collection, she then connected me with a piece that the institution legally was unable to do anything with because it was inadvertently included in another purchase they made. This error revealed that all the pieces had been stolen and legally they were unable to sell it. If they brought attention to this fact, they’d have to forfeit the entire acquisition so that’s how I acquired that.Tweet