DJ-rapper extraordinaire and Montreal transplant Rollie Pemberton, a.k.a Cadence Weapon, has had all three of his LPs nominated
for the Polaris Prize and is already a Canadian music veteran. At 26 years old, he has already served a two-year term as Edmonton’s Poet Laureate and learned to transcend the limits of the hip-hop genre.
Pemberton grew up in Edmonton and began rapping at the age of 13, describing his interest in music as “inevitable.”
“I grew up around rap music so it seemed like a foregone conclusion that I’d end up trying it out,” he said. His father, Teddy Pemberton, was a campus-radio DJ who introduced hip-hop to Edmonton with his show ‘The Black Experience in Sound’.
Pemberton also cited Nas as a huge inspiration, “I became obsessed with the song ‘Half-Time’ by Nas. I got an instrumental of it and taught myself how to rap by rapping over that beat.”
His eclectic approach to hip-hop is a result of his musical influences. His uncle Brett Miles — a saxophonist and the frontman of the Magilla Funk Conduit — encouraged him to perform at a young age. Pemberton also cited Edmonton’s thriving punk scene as an inspiration.
“The only bands that were around were hardcore bands and punk bands so I would go to those shows, and there are elements of that that have influenced me,” said Pemberton.
After a year at journalism school in Virginia, Pemberton decided to move back to Canada to pursue music.
“I had all these ideas for songs and I’d been working on music the whole time and I wanted to put something out before someone stole the idea out of my head,” said Pemberton.
But he didn’t completely distance himself from journalism. The rapper reviewed music for Stylus and Pitchfork before he became known as a musician. Now that the roles have changed, he tries not to think about what critics say.
“If I have a bad review it feels like it’s karmic retribution for the sins of my past life,” he said with a laugh. “I’m going to make the music I make, no matter what.”
Pemberton described his latest album’s title, Hope in a Dirt City, as a state of mind. “Colloquially we refer to Edmonton as ‘dirt city’, but it’s not just an Edmonton thing,” the rapper said. “When you’re in a dirt city state of mind, it’s like making the most out of your circumstances or rising up against the darkness.”
He had a specific process in mind for the album, saying that he “wanted to have more of an organic sound.” After making demos of the beats for the album, he took them to a live band in Toronto. “We jammed them out and we replaced all the samples with live instruments. It’s kind of a mix of different styles that came together naturally.”
His music is considered a cross between electronica and hip-hop, and the rapper tries to convey this in his performances.
“[The show] features all these different genres of music and goes out in all these different directions,” he said. “It’s definitely unlike any rap show I’ve ever seen.”
Cadence Weapon’s show at Il Motore with DJ Co-op is the last date of his Hope in a Dirt City tour. He’s been touring mostly non-stop since the album dropped in May, supporting Vancouver rock-duo Japandroids and the three-piece band Liars along the way. Pemberton is looking forward to the show, which will feature fellow Montrealers and a few of his personal favourite artists, Mozart’s Sister and Karneef.
But ‘vacation’ isn’t part Pemberton’s comprehensive vocabulary. “I’ll probably hang upside down in my closet for a week straight after the tour,” he said, but then it’s right back to the drawing board.
Cadence Weapon plays Il Motore (179 Rue Jean-Talon Ouest) on Saturday, Nov. 17. Tickets are $12 in advance or $15 at the door.