Cadence Weapon: Canada's rap poet laureate

Cadence Weapon: Canada's rap poet laureate

By David DeRocco

It’s a simple truth of life. Sometimes to get perspective you have to step back before you can move forward. Such is the case for Roland “Rollie” Pemberton – a.k.a. Canadian rap and hip hop star CADENCE WEAPON – who has just returned from a five-year recording hiatus with a bold and uncompromising self-titled album, CADENCE WEAPON.  

“This album is a new beginning for everything I’m doing,” said the Edmonton-born rapper, who admits his newly-released fourth album reflects the emotional output of a man who’s spent the last five years in deeply contemplative introspection. “That’s my nature typically as an individual but definitely over the past few years I’ve taken inventory of all the things I’ve made creatively in the past and all my experiences. And this album is a real reflection of that.”

The 12 songs on Cadence Weapon find the multi-talented artist at his lyrical zenith, which is no surprise considering he’s a published author who once served as Edmonton’s Poet Laurette. Take the song “The Afterparty,” for example. Produced by L.A.-based producer Dubbel Dutch, “The Afterparty” is an emotionally provocative allegory that weaves together thoughts of his own mortality with powerful images of a world on the brink of a revolution: “Could be the end of an empire / Could be the start of a new age / All my people are inspired / All of my people are enraged / Look back – might be under my artist name, can you check another page.” Singing about your own mortality is usually a sign a man is giving thought to things he stands to lose, but Cadence says there are multiple threads of meaning to be found in the track.

“That’s one of my favourite songs on the album,” says Pemberton, who had 80 songs ready to go for the album before whittling it down to the current 12. “I’ve always had this sort of existential aspect to my music and just my personality in general, it’s something I’ve always thought about. The song is kind of about my career and my life, this over-arching theme of things. But it’s also a song about the current environment and the politics in America. I wanted to make a song that was a big picture song. I love having songs that work on different levels. This is definitely one of those songs.”

Other tracks are no-less provocative. On “Destination,” a song that reflects his emerging view on the covert nature of racism in Canada, Cadence raps: “When some people see my face / all they see is race / look at me with distaste / then they make haste.” “My Crew,” on the other hand, is an anthemic blast of rapid-fire fury that deals with the false humility of being Canadian and being afraid to admit you want success. Another standout track, “Own This,” features a voice sample of his father Teddy, a DJ who introduced hip-hop to Edmonton through his radio show The Black Experience (and who was posthumously inducted into the Stylus DJ Awards Hall of Fame in 2010).

All in all, Cadence Weapon is the most accurate representation of the mindset of Cadence Weapon in 2018, newly shaped and re-imagined thanks to his experiences living in Montreal and Toronto. Although he’s still a diehard Edmontonian at heart – he released a rap tribute to Connor McDavid in 2017 but says “never” to doing a similar salute to Leaf star Austin Matthews – the artist the National Post calls “Canada’s most creative rapper” is thankful for the time he’s spent in central Canada.

“I feel like when I moved to Montreal it was more a creative renaissance for me personally. I met all these other creative artists. Everyone I met was an artist for six years I lived there. It really inspired me to be the most extreme version of myself as I could be, as an individual but also as an artist. And that has really inspired a lot of the songs on this album. It gave me a clear understanding of who I wanted to be as an artist, because coming out of Edmonton I felt like I was in a vacuum. I was the only person making the kind of music I was making and so I only really had myself to reflect upon.”

As for shaking off the rust and hitting the road (including a March 26 appearance at The Warehouse), Cadence says he ready to bring the noise.

“I don’t necessarily feel rusty,” he laughed. “There’s something about performing live. I try to get to this place where it’s an authentic expression. I feel like sometimes when you see shows it’s just people going through the motions. And I never want it to be like that. There have been times when I’ve played where I feel like I’m having an out of body experience, where I can see myself performing. When I’m at that level, the audience is at that level too. That’s my biggest thing lately, to regain that level of spirituality in my performance.”

Tickets are available now at The Warehouse.