It’s always nice to see new cats working to make a break and pushing forward. Sometimes they are brilliant; however, sometimes they are atrocious. Yet other times they are good but still need some more work. Shane Kidd is more the latter. But this is not really a diss to Shane. In fact, Shane on his own website (shanekidd918.com) states, “[I] didn’t [expect] to break any records and revolutionize the industry. Really to me this is a start towards a labor, where will it take me I don’t know? Hopefully in the midst of the Journey I get to change lives and renew minds.”
That is a good summation written by the Kidd himself. But with that said and with this being a fledgling freshman album from a man who expected little, I think far much more is to come and it will be great. But I critique albums regardless of favoritism or emotional connection or empathy. So let’s get real; gravity bringing it back to earth.
Let’s start with bad stuff first, this way we end on a positive note. The production is awkward at times. The highs are much too prevalent, too heavily weighted for my tastes, and were not as clean and even as most mixed & mastered albums are. This problem is heightened by Shane having a high voice to start with – but maybe that’s just my singular preference and maybe that’s how the Kidd wanted it. Furthermore, I think some of the vocals could have benefited from re-records, punch-ins and other odd little touches to just smooth the vocals out where they are weak.
Also, there’s not a whole lot of creativity, ingenuity or originality. It’s kind of a bland traditional East Coast album with striking similarities to Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul mixed in with a splash of Miami 2009. So let’s get real, that Miami beat and high hat style is beyond tired, but maybe that’s just me too. Hey, who am I to question the likes of Tony Stone and Teddy P who, among others, did production on this album? However, some of the tracks do suffer because this sound doesn’t seem to fit Shane very well. One of those tracks is “Straight Fire” and it was much more like a flicker fizzling out. It just doesn’t fit the Kidd’s style, but props for trying and realizing much of his album is not “commercial” and seems dated. Additionally it could be noted that “Learn to Live” may also classify within this shortcoming.
So let’s move on to the good stuff. Final production levels to the side, most the rest of the production was quite strong. The kind of traditional East Coast sampled tracks, basic beats, touches of Boom Bap and consistent variety that still sounded truly harmonious, all worked together as though they were in unison – apart from “Straight Fire” and “Learn to Live” of course. It was also kind of refreshing to hear this modern throwback after the flood of commercial copies. I did previously mention a couple tracks that failed at that modern commercial Miami south infusion, but there is one that succeeded. That track is the opener and title track “Student of Life.” Hey, if there’s ever one to get right, that’s it. But wait, that’s not the only track. In fact, the best track on the album falls under this commercial umbrella, “Hallway Journeys,” and it’s great not just because K-Drama featured. Nope, the Kidd killed this track! And yes, it is the single and rightfully so.
While I also previously mentioned that the album had similarities in sound to Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul at points, I actually found this to be kind of a good thing as well as bad. The bad was the dated aspect. The good is that I loved those groups! HA! Weirdly enough Shane’s delivery reminds me of a mix between Q-Tip and Mos Def. Certainly not poor quality comparisons, but those are artists with limited mass appeal. However, they do appeal to me so that’s really all that matters, isn’t it? Heh.
While I also knocked the vocal production in part, there are aspects of the vocal production that are quite good. Where little touches are not needed I am quite impressed. Shane has a smooth style with a touch of grit where it’s needed. He adapts well to the music and phrasing to make tracks sound appealing which is hugely important when recording an album. Better yet, most of the feature artists also sounded great on the tracks and blended nicely with Shane. And speaking of features let’s mention a few. Most notably among the features are Sho Baraka, K-Drama, Dillon Chase and Diamone. Those are far from shabby features; actually, they’re quite impressive. But even the relative unknown features are very strong. Furthermore, there is a female vocalist (unnamed) on “Introspective” that was fabulous. Far too often the vocalists are slightly sharp, slightly flat, in the wrong key and/or work too many runs. This vocalist was a welcome change to the all-to-common problem. She may have struggled in the lower keys, but when she climbs it’s phenomenal – aw man, now I sound like an American Idol judge …dog, dog, check it out. I loved it man, check it, seriously man… but I digress. This is really a great song, well put together and ultimately one of my favorites.
When it comes to Christian music, sounding great is not the sole determiner of quality. The message/content is generally just as important. So where does Shane Kidd stand or fall regarding the message? Ah, hmmm, well, uh, quite good actually. The Kidd does a great job of balancing what’s appealing with what’s important. Shane is no punch-line rhymer, but, like Q-Tip, he does a great job of smoothly progressing with thought and story and simple metaphors while still being interesting. No single line really is going to jump out and be impressive. But together, the collection of lines and the overall message in the way it’s all delivered is just great. Sure, the content is quite basic, but sometimes basic works.
The biggest standout, in my opinion, is “Sweet Temptation,” which deals with the typical issue of attraction verses how scripture would have our relationships with the opposite sex operate. Normally this would not be an appealing track, but the overall quality is excellent. I love the smoky vocals on the hook by Emajinthis and the play with beauty and responsibility in the track.
So let’s break it down. The freshmen album, “Student of Life,” suffers from typical aspects of freshman-itis. The production quality depends on taste but is generally consistent. You’re not going to hear any profound lyrics or mind blowing lines, but you will find a good overall message and good overall quality in vocal presentation. There are some bad tracks, but there are more good than bad and even a couple of great ones. All of the features are strong, both singers and emcees. And for all of its shortcomings and Shane Kidd’s limited expectations, “Student of Life” is actually a really good album.
Music: 6.25 of 10
Flow / Delivery: 7.5 of 10
Lyricism: 3 of 10
Content: 6.5 of 10
Creativity / Originality / Relevancy: 4 of 10
Credibility / Confidence: 7 of 10
Personality / Character: 7 of 10
Presentation Quality: 9 of 10
Overall Production Quality: 4.75 of 10
Potential Impact: 6 of 10