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Lord Subliminal—Shahkim—that big guy watching the door that you do not want to run afoul of...call him what you will, a few things are certain: He’s an emcee, a poet and he has been an important part of the local hip hop scene for almost two decades, working tirelessly to perfect and promote his art. And the local music scene is richer for it.
His first foray into music was back in 1987 in El Paso, where he and his cousin would write “silly rhymes” for the fun of it. For his cousin, it was an amusing pastime, but it struck a deeper chord in Shah, who went on to study structure, arrangement and the mechanics behind writing and producing, while paying particularly close attention to the revolutionary N.W.A. and their emergent “gangsta rap” sound.This effort came to fruition upon his arrival in Chattanooga in 1994, when he met DeWayne Holloway and Vibe Tribe Entertainment, an affiliation that would soon see him performing onstage for the first time at the M.T.S.U. music hall.
For nearly a decade after that first performance, Shah stayed busy traveling, writing and performing, largely at community events, benefits, fundraisers, children’s gatherings and neighborhood block parties.While putting in his time and paying his dues, Shah began amassing the material that would become his enormous catalog of original music, finding inspiration and spirituality in every new experience. The effect on his style was profound, a fact that become readily apparent when, in 2004, he finally entered the local music scene in full force, making his second debut at The Local Performance Hall. Less than a year later, he would be presented with a Chattanooga Independent Artist award and from there it was “game on,” with a whirlwind of appearances at local venues including The Attic, Lamar’s, Ziggy’s and the Green Martian. More recently he can be found performing at J.J.’s Bohemia and Sluggo’s Vegetarian Café.
After his initial success, Shah spent a great deal of time on the road, a pilgrimage to various East Coast hip hop meccas from Miami to Chicago and on to New York, where he made what has proven to be one of his most important acquaintances, Popa Wu, mentor to the Wu Tang Clan and expert on the philosophy of the Five Percent Nation. Brooklyn provided a treasure trove of new opportunities for Shah. While there, he opened for Whild Peach (the backing band for Outkast), made numerous guest appearances on the albums of up-and-comers, and performed at pivotal venues like The Bowery Poetry, The Pyramid Club, the legendary Nuyorican and the Exit Club in Manhattan, before eventually bringing it all back home to Chattanooga.
I was fortunate to be there at some of Shahkim’s early performances in Chattanooga. Even then, his intensity and passion were striking. Indeed, the ferocity of his live shows often belied the underlying complexity of his lyrics, whether they were tackling social issues, politics or spirituality. There was a greater depth to what Shah was doing than was typical in the hip hop of the era. In the time since then, he has only managed to refine that approach, until now, with the upcoming release of his latest album, Shah-man, the music has reached a level of sophistication on par with the lyrics, always with the underlying theme of educating the people. Even a quick listen to the new track, “Let’s Get it On Ruffy” will confirm that his mastery of form has reached a new plateau, a place where he is equally comfortable in front of the mic or behind the mixing console. The maturity of his work has given him the ability to glide effortlessly between hip hop, R&B, soul, funk, electronica, and on into the realm of weird new fusion. It is the 21st century, after all. and the lines of distinction between musical genres have blurred. More crossovers and collaborations than ever before are the hallmark of this new hybrid style. And in this realm of almost limitless new possibilities, Shahkim is one of the pioneers leading the way.
No release date has been set for Shah-man yet, and given the man’s attention to detail and penchant for experimentation, it may be early next year before the album is available, but there is no doubt it will be worth the wait. In the meantime, you can follow Shah in all the usual places on Facebook and Reverbnation and on the mic at Sluggo’s Café and J.J.’s Bohemia.