TORONTO - As rapper Shad steps into the spotlight as the new host of CBC Radio's "Q," it's impossible for him to ignore the shadow of the old host.
Jian Ghomeshi had helmed the popular cultural affairs show since its inception in 2007, but was fired in October.
Ghomeshi, who has admitted to engaging in rough sex but said it was consensual, faces seven counts of sexual assault and one of overcoming resistance by choking for alleged incidents that occurred between 2002 and 2008.
Shad, a recent guest host who won the job from a pool of nearly 250 candidates, does acknowledge some lingering baggage surrounding the host's chair.
"Certainly — that was a big deal what went down," he said Thursday at CBC headquarters.
"If there's something I have to offer, it's that I wasn't around for it.
"So I'm going to try to hop in and have all the optimism and enthusiasm that comes from just starting something brand new; fresh, clean slate.
"Meanwhile, the rest of the team has had to go through a lot," he added. "So hopefully they'll appreciate that enthusiasm."
And certainly, Shad is as fresh — or green — as a young broadcaster could be.
Even he was concerned about it, pointing out to CBC executives that he had a mere five days' experience. It's the little things — adapting to the headphones, deciphering the control panel, and reading out loud, which he jokes he hasn't done since Grade 6 — that will provide a daily education.
Still, he has other strengths.
"I have a broad education and broad cultural experience," he said. "And I don't mind getting made fun of on the Internet, so that's an asset.
"The sum of my experiences make me a pretty good fit."
Born in Kenya to Rwandan parents and raised in London, Ont., Shad established early on that he possessed two characteristics rarely combined in a rapper: bountiful technical skill and a social conscience.
On his 2005 debut "When The Music's Over," he rapped about the Rwandan genocide, interspersed with wrenching spoken-word clips from his grandmother.
His next three linguistically nimble albums — each of which were nominated for Juno Awards and the Polaris Music Prize — featured similarly serious-minded ruminations on race, gender and God. He was still relatively unknown outside of Canada when Kanye West praised his contemplative 2007 tune "Brother (Watching)."
Not all of his work was marked by such cerebral sobriety. He initially captured the public imagination with the goofy video "The Old Prince Still Lives at Home," a "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"-themed ode to the laconic luxury of living at home.
He's also skilled at chest-puffing, with "Stylin'" and "Yaa I Get It" providing jabbing punch lines and a rare chance for the humble 32-year-old to trill his own praises.
His rap collaborators say he's both an ideal "Q" host and ambassador for the Canadian hip-hop community.
"He's not cut from the cliche cloth, which is: street, suffering," said four-time Juno nominee Saukrates, who produced "Stylin'."
"Being a host, you have to leave some or most of your opinions on the bench ... but they'll definitely get to feed on his intelligence and insight."
Added producer Skratch Bastid: "He will show that we've got some great minds in Canadian hip-hop music."
Although Shad is still pondering the details of his "Q" — which launches April 20 — he beams when asked for his dream interview: Kanye.
"I've already got some flak for saying that," he noted. "That tension too is what makes him so great."
Shad himself certainly isn't leaving hip-hop behind, vowing to continue his rap career.
And as he prepares to dual-wield microphones amplifying to two different audiences, he sees some similarities between rap and radio. Both are outlets for his humanistic curiosity, and he expects the issues that have inspired him musically will inspire him on "Q," too.
Of course, it also means the guy who once bragged that he rapped "like it's my hobby, not a jobby-job" now has two serious careers.
"So what will that mean?" he mused. "Less sleeping. A whole lot less sleeping."
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