We don’t make war, we make sure there’s order.
We just follow orders, we just fill orders for more.
—“The Revolution/The Establishment”
In Shad’s new album A Short Story about a War, every listener can relate to one of the characters. Set in a fictional desert war zone during a world war, the Sniper seeks to rise above everyone else. He ends up in a well-established, powerful position—but isolated. The second group of characters are the revolutionaries who oppose the establishment. They define their purpose by what they are against more than what they are for. Then there are the people of the establishment, who participate in violence because they are just following orders, distancing themselves from any responsibility for their actions.
The stone-throwers have the least power within the conflict. Their violence is ugly, and society condemns it more than the socially acceptable violence of the establishment, even though it has less total impact. Finally, we meet the fool, who enters the battlefield without a weapon. He picks up a bullet and exclaims, “These can’t kill you!” In “The Fool Pt 1 (Get It Got It Good)” he then begins to tell others: “They can’t kill us, ‘cause they can’t see us, ‘cause they only see fear,” which parallels 1 John 4:18 where perfect love drives out fear.
As these characters engage in warfare, we learn more about the fool’s radical embodiment of love and nonviolence. The conflict culminates in the song “Peace/War” which contrasts love and fear, violence and nonviolence. A refrain builds in favor of war: “We know life in its sacredness. We know life ‘cause we’ve taken it. You can’t know life without death. We know war, we know best.” The song ends with the line from Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they . . . [gunshot].” When reflecting on the violent end to this quote of the beatitude, Shad has said: “That’s how it goes, but that’s not how it ends.”
The final two tracks bring us back to reality in North America, asking listeners to consider their relationship with fear. Will they continue to live in fearful postures like the sniper, revolutionary, establishment, or stone-thrower? Or will they follow the fool, who lives fearlessly by pure love? Do listeners have the faith and the courage needed to completely disarm? Could this vulnerability lead to true freedom?
Shad has created a timely album that explores our culture of fear and the illusions it creates. He uses hip-hop sounds that speak to a particular time rather than a place, using multiple layers and the unique sound of digital distortion to help listeners feel the emotions of each character. This spiritual album is significant for those who are trying to follow Jesus. The parallels between Jesus and the fool are clear, providing opportunity for reflection.
Shad summed it up best in a public conversation about the album:
From what I understand about the story of Jesus, it’s not unlike this album. A story of intense violence. Steeped in this story is foolish resistance. Trying to do the right thing and in the end looking like a miserable failure, but still doing it. And a surprising redemption for everyone. It’s still the best story I know. (Secret City Records)