Presenting Cadence Fucking WeaponA Reasonably Successful Canadian Rap Superstar
By Scott Wood
When I sit down with him on the steps up to the Commodore Ballroom, Rollie Pemberton, aka Cadence Weapon, is everything you would expect from your favorite little brother. He is brash but a little insecure, strongly opinionated but can be humbled when he gets out of line, kinda geeky but in a cool way. When I mistake him for 19, he quickly corrects me that he has been 20—for almost a year. He is high energy, introducing himself as Cadence Fucking Weapon, making explosion fx.
The title of his album, Breaking Kayfabe is from a wrestling term for breaking character. So, I ask him who his favorite wrestler is. Pemberton cites Razor Ramone, who he describes as a full-on rip-off of Scarface. Then Pemberton starts to hum Ramone’s theme song, which he says was also an almost rip-off of the theme from Scarface.
Then I ask him how he would react if a wrestler wanted to use a Cadence Weapon track for his or her showstarter. Pemberton immediately perks up, “That would be really cool. That’s kind of the idea behind a lot of the music I make. Back in the day I used to think, ‘Hmmm if I could have a theme song as a wrestler, what would it sound like?’ Maybe that’s my career, making the perfect entrance theme for myself.”
Pemberton may have grown out of wrestling, but he is still a huge music geek. He dropped out of a journalism degree at a prestigious all-Black US college to “be a reasonably successful rap superstar.” But before Cadence Weapon blew up, he did double duty as a music journalist, even writing reviews for the arbiter-of-all-things-indie pitchfork.com. So I ask him how he reacts to reviews, considering he has been on both sides of the pen.
Pemberton laughs. “I feel like I am due for some really shitty reviews. People are gonna start stomping me pretty soon. Cuz I did give some harsh reviews to people—that were warranted—but, karmically speaking, I am due for a lot of bad reviews.”
I note that so far, he hasn’t had that many.
“When I get a bad review, I like it when it’s actually accurate. When it’s things I’ve criticized myself in music, then I’m like, ‘Ok, cool.’ But when it seems like whoever reviewed it doesn’t really understand the genre of the music that they’re reviewing…” Pemberton rolls his eyes like he is throwing out the trash. “And that’s happened to me too. I’ve done reviews of records where I’ve been out of my bounds, like some sort of electro rock record, and I didn’t really understand what they were trying to do, so obviously I am not gonna do as good a job. So I give some people the benefit of the doubt for that. But I don’t feel too bad about the bad reviews. Not everybody’s gonna like you, but you’ve gotta keep making music. No matter what.”
With that in mind, I ask Cadence Weapon for his thoughts on a couple of hip hop acts. First up, Mike Skinner from The Streets.
“I’m a huge fan.” Pemberton gets enthusiastic quickly, “The thing about The Streets that I really like is they have a really good sense of regionalism. He talks about where he’s from and what he does all day. Some of that stuff, I think, is really indicative of anyone in my age range.” Pemberton starts to rap, “We eat junk food, get drunk, watch the tube—He [Mike Skinner] just styles on that sort of tip and I really appreciate that. I am definitely influenced by that music. It’s incredible.”
I ask him why he thinks mainstream hip hop has been so slow to embrace The Streets.
“If you hear my beats, you know they are pretty weird and out there. Real sythy. I’m using the grime stuff too. [Grime is] like the new punk to me. Cuz when punk first came out no one wanted to touch it, but eventually they embraced it. And that’s starting to happen with grime. Look at Lady Sov.”
So I ask if he is surprised that Lady Sovereign has been so successful in North America?
Pemberton has done shows with her, so he is quick to give her props. “She’s really ill live.” Likewise, he is not surprised she is so successful. “Think about it. She is a female white rapper. And she’s British. And she’s got ill beats. And she is on Def Jam. Why not? That’s very incredibly marketable to me. What’s more marketable, her or a Canadian rapper at all?”
As I ponder the question, Pemberton forces a laugh revealing some of his struggle. I tell him I think the problem with a lot of Canadian rap is that it ends up being a watered down version of bigger US acts, which doesn’t do the artist any favors if they want to break out of Canada.
Pemberton definitely has opinions on this too. “I feel like the reason a lot of Canadian rap doesn’t get across is because it’s afraid to be Canadian rap. Its’ scared to be where we’re from.” And he has put some thought into his answer. “When I start breaking in the States, I’m always gonna be, like, ‘No I am from Edmonton.’ Just because my Dad lives in New York and my sister lives in New Jersey, I’m not gonna start namedropping that stuff to seem legit or real to some people I don’t even know. I’m always be myself and I think that’s gonna do well for me. People who stay true to what they wanna do, and honest with the music that they are making, they tend to last.
Pemberton expresses himself well so it’s easy to agree. However, this same passion for music and honesty have got him into trouble. In an interesting interview on iheartmusic.net last year, Pemberton called out the big three K’s of Canadian rap, Kardinal Offishal, K-Os and K’Naan, on their authenticity.
Pemberton goes flush when I bring it up. “Well, I gotta say in that interview I got so wild. I kind of regret that one—a lot. Well, I gotta say in that interview I got so wild. I kind of regret that one - a lot I don’t like to put people on Front Street a lot. I am very critical of what’s happening overall in Canadian rap. But you know, after having met K-Os, gotten to see what he is role is, and what he is trying to do. I shouldn’t really front on him too much. I’m not saying that he is a straight up pop artist, but I mean that’s what he is excelling at. I heard his new record the other day and it’s really well produced. It’s perfect for what its trying to be. I dunno, sometimes a little bit of my rap snobbishness comes out. I kind of overreach my grounds and stuff. But I’m trying to be more relaxed.”
Next, I throw out another name, Uffie. [Link to !earshot article] For those who haven’t heard about her, she is a dance-electro-rapper, controversial with hip hop purists.
“Yeah Uffie,” He laughs, “That song, “Ready to Uff,” that song is a banger. It’s a fun party song. And they kill it, those Ed Banger dudes are the hottest electronic shit right now. I can’t front ‘em at all.” Ed Banger is the magma hot French record label that is the home of Uffie and futuristic dance DJs Justice and SebstiAn. “But Uffie, I really like that one song but the other songs are kinda silly.”
Pemberton chuckles, “It’s not exactly, ah, substance, it’s party shit right?” He starts to rap Uffie’s lines, “I’m a damn crazy brat and I don’t give a fuck—You’re not gonna change anybody’s life, but maybe you’re not trying to.”
“It’s more original than a lot of shit out there. I think a lot of people in the hip hop scene are critical of it because stuff like that song “Pop the Glock”… I can’t get behind an eighteen year old girl from Miami telling me she’s gonna pop the glock on me.” Pemberton chuckles again. “I just don’t believe it.”
“That’s my only issue. But I play that when I DJ and I rock that track. And Everyone I know, they love that. It’s def very forward dance hip hop. So yeah, I’m cool with it.”
So I remind Pemberton that he is criticizing Uffie for popping the glock when he is a guy from Edmonton. His song “Oliver Square” makes Edmonton sound more ghetto than I remember.
I catch him off-guard but he likes the challenge. “People don’t really understand what I am saying, you know? It’s a joke. It’s a half joke. Cuz the stuff I am talking about in Oliver Square actually does happen. A friend really did get her arm broken by a cab driver. There are dangerous elements to Edmonton. I am not saying it is the most thugged out place in the universe.”
“But the first line is a Jay-Z line. I’m paraphrasing, “It’s corrupt where I’m from...” That line is a half joke. I feel kind of silly for saying it. Every time I play that song, people are like, ‘Oh he’s thinks he’s thugged out because he’s from Alberta.’ But you know what? For a while there, we were the murder capital!” He grins like he is in on the joke. “So give us that.”