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I Want To Go Further: An interview with Cadence Weapon

By Jason Herring, September 27 2018 —

From the first song off his debut album, Breaking Kayfabe, geography has grounded Cadence Weapon’s music. On “Oliver Square,” Rolly Pemberton raps about a litany of Edmonton landmarks, most of them defunct bars. Though the landmark referenced in the title is, hilariously, an unremarkable strip mall, the song serves as an endearing love letter to Pemberton’s hometown.

Though Pemberton has since left Edmonton for Montreal and then Toronto, reflections on life in those Canadian urban centres remains a fulcrum of his music. And that’s more than evident on the self-titled Cadence Weapon, Pemberton’s first album since 2012.

Despite the lengthy gap between releases, Pemberton remained active in music and arts scenes during the stretch. Notably, he published a book of poetry in 2013 — unsurprising, as Pemberton is a former Edmonton poet laureate — in addition to DJing at shows and recording “hundreds of songs.”

“But it was only near the very end of that period when I was living in Toronto and I really had a great infrastructure for recording when the pieces of the puzzle came together,” Pemberton says. “There are certain songs that felt like they went together. Once that happens, you kind of feel like, ‘Okay, that’s an album.’ ”

Among those songs are the amped-up party anthem “My Crew (Woooo)” and the narrative-driven “System.” But perhaps the best cut on Cadence Weapon is “High Rise,” a song that Pemberton says is critical of the rampant gentrification in Toronto. Pemberton explains that when he was living in Montreal, it was easy to find places to live in hip neighbourhoods. But upon moving to Toronto, he was shocked at how the city’s housing market worked.

“Toronto was insanely competitive. I looked at, like, 30 different places. People were throwing down cash at open houses,” he says. “It’s super aggressive and it all stems from what these condo developers and real estate developers are doing to formerly unpleasant — to them — neighbourhoods. That’s what this song is about. I wrote it from the perspective of this evil real estate developer who wants to destroy all the artful things that make living in a city so great.

“I think [high rises] destroy communities and they create further isolation in people,” he adds. “I wasn’t feeling them, so I decided to write a song about it.”

“High Rise” proves that Pemberton’s not afraid to get political in his lyricism, just as he wasn’t when chatting with the Gauntlet, where he also expressed his frustration with Doug Ford’s decisions as the premier of Ontario, expressing how it’s “disempowering to feel like this person won the election based on Buck-a-Beer and these populist, hackneyed campaign promises.”

That fiery disposition is evident throughout the rest of Cadence Weapon, an album that contains far more collaboration than any of Pemberton’s previous work. Cadence says he likes to change the way he creates music with each album, from the glitch-hop isolation of Breaking Kayfabe to the live-band instrumentation of Hope in Dirt City.

For his self-titled album, Pemberton settled on a collaborative direction — a third of the album’s songs feature other voices behind the mic, an impressive number considering that only one collaborator appeared on any of the first three Cadence Weapon albums.

“I wanted to go further into collaboration and that meant working with different producers and different vocalists and having different people doing choruses and writing songs together in the same room,” he says. “That was something I didn’t really do too extensively until this album. I think it’s about changing up your process because things can get stale really quickly if you’re doing things the same way every time.”

Despite Pemberton’s cross-country relocation, he still considers Edmonton home. He says he often thinks of different ways to let the world know more about the City of Champions — he put out a track called “Connor McDavid” in 2017 that’s notably optimistic now, given the on-ice success of Edmonton Oilers since its release.

“I think my connection to Edmonton is always going to be a really big part of my career,” Pemberton says. “I feel like a lot of people, when they move away from places, they don’t want to admit where they’re actually from. There’s so many artists that are secretly Edmontonian.”

Pemberton plans to shout-out Alberta’s capital city when he brings his North American tour to Calgary on Oct. 3. He’ll be backed up by Fat Tony, a Houston rapper who also hosts Thrift Haul on Super Deluxe, and Hua Li, a Chinese-Canadian rapper and classical pianist.

“They’re two very unique rappers and I feel people are in for a real treat,” Pemberton says. “Different perspectives of rap. That’s what this tour’s all about.”

Cadence Weapon will play Commonwealth Bar & Stage on Oct. 3. Doors are at 8 p.m. and advance tickets are $15.

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