Thousands of songs pass through our ears every week. That's not an exaggeration - DJBooth literally receives thousands of submissions. Most of that music blends into a mushy, indistinguishable middle, but every so often something truly catches not just your ear, but your whole being. You have to know more, hear more, and that was my reaction when I first listened to Sri-Lankin born, Toronto-based artist Shan Vincent de Paul. I couldn’t let him go. “Die Iconic” is that potent.
The video is two minutes long but it feels like a full-length picture. It’s so simple yet so dense. For two minutes, de Paul doesn’t even blink he just stares into your soul. The tear rolling down his cheek caps the powerful visuals off, but it’s the way the spit builds in his mouth that convinced me. You can’t manufacture that. That wasn't even spit, it was passion spewing up from his soul like lava. This was my introduction and I knew I had to hear and see more. Since there's no better way to hear an artist's heart than actually speaking to them, and Shan is all heart, I grabbed the buzzmaker for an interview.
I didn’t expect it to be that emotional. The verse was fresh, it was literally a day old, and I was getting lost in it. The words started to hit me, myself. That line, “father picked da pistol up…” In my head I thought about how my parents have given up so much for me to do this and in an instant, my life flashed before my eyes. Not in a tragic way but almost like an epiphany. After, when I watched it, I said, “I don't think we can put this video out" Even for me, it was just way too uncomfortable. If I'm uncomfortable watching there's no way everyone watching it won't be, but the fact that I felt uncomfortable meant I had to release it.
That verse was a day old? That was one in one take? Shan revealed that they had additional takes after, but none carried the weight of that first go-round. Maybe that’s what subconsciously drew me in? When I write a very personal piece, I always hesitate. It can be hard to put yourself out there emotionally, to let people really see you, but the pieces that are the hardest to publish are often the ones that connect with people the most.
This isn't the only time de Paul puts himself on display on his new album Saviors. He also does it on "Buggin," but in a much more literal way.
"Buggin" is just as revealing and intimate, so much so he was sworn to secrecy. “My girl has told me never to speak on the making of that video,” he mentioned before risking a few nights sleeping on the couch to tell me more. “It's a different side. I wanted to do that because, how do you show your sexuality, the intimacy, without the obvious, without being cliche? A part of me wanted to see how far I could push YouTube's limits.”
Whether it’s a result of trying to push limits or stretch a budget, which according to Paul was definitely part of the equation, those two videos changed how I heard the song and how I saw Shan. That should be the mark of any artist. It takes that extra level of thought, the attention to detail, that makes something worth experiencing, and it's an artistic drive he learned from studying a wide range of influences, from Bjork to DMX, Public Enemy to David Bowie.
During our interview he constantly name dropped artists, breaking down their songs, albums and styles. Our interview turned into two music nerds talking shop, but you don't need to speak to Paul to hear his passion for the arts, it’s already in his music. "Humble" is a vivid, colorful track, which is actually an ode to West Coast rappers. It has that bounce, but the energy is different from any Nate Dogg hook I've ever heard. And then there's "Church," which defies classification. Though it’s been on endless repeat for a few weeks now, I’ve yet to be able to calculate just what it is. His fire and growl scream hip-hop, but that beat is anything but.
Saviors is such aneasy listen that you can easily overlook how diverse it is. It’s only when you break it down, picking out all the songs one by one, that you begin to appreciate each of them more. Speaking with the man I could tell this stems from Shan’s unflinching love of music.
"I study a lot of different kinds of music. Even if I don't like the type of music I’m listening to, I study it to find why people would connect with it."
I worried that writing "he loves music" sounds overly generic, but that was the biggest takeaway from our conversation. His love fuels him, makes him want to reach as many different kinds of people as possible. His love fuels his quest to compete with everyone else making music. His love of music is what makes Saviors an album worth your time.
Interviews are often the best way to get to know an artist, their true selves being no longer masked by branding and calculated 140 character tweets. The artist only lets us in as far as they choose; sometimes even that's a skewed reality. When you actually talk to someone though, human to human, you have a real shot at learning where their heart is at, you can try to separate the artist from the person. But with Shan Vincent de Paul I'm not sure there is a separation, he is his art, and Saviors is the man in musical form.