TORONTO — After contemplating hundreds of potential candidates, the CBC is convinced that new “Q” host Shad can succeed with flying colours.
The 32-year-old rapper will soon take over the popular cultural affairs radio show, which was helmed by Jian Ghomeshi until he was fired last year.
“I’m a little surprised this morning when people have said this is a bold or courageous decision, because I’m just so confident about it,” said Cindy Witten, interim executive director of English-language CBC-Radio.
“(Shad) is so extremely bright, a really curious guy, he’s clearly passionate about arts and culture in this country,” she added.
“He’s going to be so charming. I think he’s going to really resonate with … the core ’Q’ listener, and I actually think he’s going to bring new audiences to ’Q.”’
The announcement followed a cross-country search during which Witten said the CBC assembled a list of nearly 250 possible hosts.
Raised in London, Ont., Shad is a cerebral, dexterous rapper whose four albums have tackled race-based alienation, gender inequality and even the Rwandan genocide (he was born in Kenya to Rwandan parents).
Since issuing his debut record “When The Music’s Over” in 2005, he’s been shortlisted several times for the Polaris Music Prize, earned plaudits from Chicago rap titan Kanye West, and reeled in three Juno nominations. Notably, Shad upset Toronto’s Drake to win the 2011 Juno trophy for rap recording of the year for his ambitious “TSOL,” memorably joking in acceptance: “This is like the Emmy going to Theo’s friend Cockroach or something.”
Shad was among a rotating cast of guest hosts who had been steering the show since Ghomeshi was let go in October.
Those stints wound up being a sort of audition, and Shad impressed.
“He had the instincts to pull out those really special moments (in his interviews),” Witten pointed out.
She suggested that Shad’s “Q” — he takes over April 20 — will have a more spontaneous, live feeling than before, with even more music.
Given the show’s sprawling scope, Shad will need to prepare to discuss almost any issue.
“What we had with Jian was someone who could interview artists, authors, actors and musicians with great ease,” said Marion Coomey, a professor in Ryerson University’s RTA School of Media.
“Shad is going to have to be someone who can interview everybody.”
A longtime “Q” listener, Coomey praised Shad’s “energetic” and “engaged” performance as guest host, though she noted that his lack of broadcast experience means there will be a “learning curve.”
“I wouldn’t say he’s a brilliant broadcaster or interviewer, and I don’t think Shad would say that either,” said the CBC executive.
“But what he does have is he’s curious. He has searing intellect and empathy. And to me, that’s a foundation on which to build.”
His peers are confident he can handle it.
“He may not have a broadcast degree, but if you’ve been playing stages for 10 years, I think that’s something you can’t learn in school,” said Canadian hip-hop DJ Skratch Bastid, who produced several tracks on Shad’s most recent record, 2013’s “Flying Colours.”
“If anyone’s heard Shad’s freestyle skills, you know he’s pretty good at improvisation.”
The search for a new “Q” host generated much interest, given the details of Ghomeshi’s departure.
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. The alleged assaults for which he is charged occurred between 2002 and 2008.
Witten insists that Shad isn’t inheriting a broken property.
She said that “Q” has actually built its audience since Ghomeshi’s departure, with ratings only starting to “soften slightly” in the past few weeks — but still staying above the same period last year.
Still, she acknowledges that the saga has been hard on staff.
“It was obviously really challenging around here last fall,” she said.
“But I feel like the cloud’s lifting. I feel like we’ve turned a corner.”
Shad was not available for an interview on Wednesday. CBC said he would be speaking to reporters on Thursday.