How Swamp Izzo Is Turning Toronto’s Shah Into Atlanta’s Next Superstar
Since releasing his debut record Rookie Card last year, Toronto’s Shah has built a captivating movement. He’s consistently ranked one of Toronto’s top new rappers, his music, visuals, and merchandise have been praised by fans and critics, and his current single Just Text recently became the first song by a Canadian artist to win Atlanta’s influential Battlegrounds. The biggest knock on Shah has probably been his apparent indifference towards music industry politics, ranging from his sidestepping major labels, to perpetually declining interview requests, to withdrawing his name from XXL’s Freshman nomination list. A key reason this has not hurt, and possibly even helped Shah’s movement, is his ongoing engagement with fans. Shah, for example, still personally responds to seemingly all comments and questions from fans on social media.
Another main reason for Shah’s success has been Swamp Izzo, Cash Money’s official head DJ whose experiences range from DJing Nicki Minaj’s Superbowl appearance to serving as Obama’s military tour DJ. Swamp is also known for launching the careers of some of Atlanta’s most famous rappers. He’s played a critical role in taking artists like Gucci Mane, Future, and Young Thug from the street and grooming them for stardom. It’s not clear exactly when Swamp took Shah under his wing, but since joining forces, Shah has achieved things that seem might seem exceedingly hard for most independents. His music has been showcased on-air by some of the countries most prominent radio personalities: from DJ Scream, to Greg Street, to J Nicks of the Durtty Boyz. His first official concert was one of music’s most highly anticipated debuts since The Weeknd’s in 2011. Being guided by a local veteran like Swamp becomes even more important when considering Atlanta is a thousand miles from Shah’s hometown.
Shah is not the first Toronto rapper whose stardom was propelled by Atlanta. Drake and Torey Lanez have credited Atlanta for helping launch their careers. Even Kardinal Offishall, the original Toronto rap god, relocated to Atlanta after signing with Akon’s Konvict music. So it’s surprising that prior to last week, no Toronto artist had ever conquered Hot 107.9FM’s Battlegrounds, arguably Atlanta’s most influential radio program known for launching soon-to-be national hits. This all changed last week when Shah’s newest single Just Text swept Battlegrounds, attaining the maximum five wins. In the days since its Battlegrounds reign, Just Text began charting in cities neighboring Atlanta.
What separates other Toronto rappers with Atlanta ties from Shah, and helps explain his Battlegrounds wins, is how the streets of Atlanta have embraced him. For months, music blogs have written about Shah receiving an early cosign from Magic City and other influential Atlanta strip clubs known for breaking rappers. What might not be clear to those unfamiliar with Atlanta is that being accepted by these strip clubs translates to having the support of the streets. Similarly, Shah has often been compared to Future, but again what might not be clear to outsiders is that these comparisons are due to the Shah and Future taking similar paths in their rise to stardom, not because of similar sounds or styles.
Shah and Future were both embraced by Magic City and guided by Swamp Izzo early in their careers. However, unlike Future and other Atlanta artists that Swamp helped, Shah is not your conventional trap star. He’s an outspoken feminist. Shah’s previous single Pay Day 71 called out gender inequality, specifically referring to women earning only 71% of their male counterparts. His instagram captures a movement primarily comprised of women such as the Magic City Takers a trio of star dancers from Magic City. He has also supported Atlanta based social justice initiatives such as Project South and Proof Inc., which in turn, deepened Atlanta’s support for Shah, similar to how teaming up with Swamp Izzo multiplied the street support Shah had already attained. With Swamp holding the formula used to launch some of rap’s biggest stars, it’s clear why so many in Atlanta believe it’s only a matter of time before Shah becomes a national household name.