Globally acclaimed by blogs and active locally as sound designer for the Shadow Lounge's weekly open mike, Shade Cobain is humbly determined to make an imprint as one of hip hop's most gifted producers.
Even in his youth, Shade (born Charles Taylor) played the role of record selector for family.
"My mom and her friends would have a party or play cards and be like, ‘Put on a record,'" the 36-year-old recalls. "That was my fascination since [I was] a kid."
At Peabody High, Shade played clarinet and saxophone with the school band. While he listened to hip hop, he didn't have the necessary equipment to create the kind of music that he was hearing. In the mid-'90s, he became known for his skills as a freestyle-battle MC -- something he picked up at home.
"My mom and stepdad used to freestyle battle each other," he says. "They would let an instrumental play and they would just go at it. And then one day I jumped in."
He recalls the process of finding beats, with the help of some of the elder producers of the scene. "There were times me and [local MC Thelonious] Stretch used to try to find Supa C, or find out where Oyo was at, find out where Outtareach is at and go there and bug them. We'd go over their crib, sit there and listen to a tape of beats.
"We had to sit there and cipher with the producer before they even thought about giving us a beat," he adds with a laugh.
The experience lit a fire that led Shade to becoming a producer himself.
At a garage sale held by Supa C, Shade bought an EPS-16 keyboard. A few years later, around 2003, he hooked up with James Armstead Brown, who sold him a Boss-303 digital sampler. Soon after, Shade's beat tapes began circulating. Each cassette tape or CD would include several instrumental productions.
In 2010, Cobain started his digital-release "Theory Beat Tape Series," which recently concluded with a release called TEARS; now he's taking on the challenge of working with vocalists -- which is different from just making beats alone.
"I like compromise," he says. "I feel like it's a way for me to submit myself a little bit to get to know where they're coming from, to try to interpret their feelings."