Toronto-based rapper Cadence Weapon sheds light on his experience as a Canadian rapper and discusses current events and the pandemic’s impact on his music.
Nominated once previously for his self-titled album in 2018, Roland Pemberton was yet again nominated for the Polaris Music Prize Album of the Year for his recently released album Parallel World. The “propulsive energy to the majority of the lyrics of this album does come from the urgency of the subject matter, but also the urgency in which [he] created them.”
The Polaris Music Prize is an annual award exclusive to Canadian artists who produce groundbreaking and impactful LPs.
Pemberton feels like he is “just a Canadian guy”, originally hailing from Edmonton, is now based in Toronto where he writes most of his music. He also lived in Montreal for a six-year period, which is where he wrote the Hope in Dirt City LP and his entire self-titled album, which features songs like “Soju” and “Five Roses,” a reference to Farine Five Roses in the Ville-Marie borough.
Like every artist on the planet, Cadence Weapon was affected by the pandemic by having to work remotely to collaborate with artists on his latest album Parallel World. Regardless, Pemberton remarked enjoying working with artists remotely through multiple forms of communication, and it helped him attribute the theme of the album to our relationship with the internet. The artists featured on this LP are based all over the world, from London, England (Manga Saint Hilare), the United States (Fat Tony), and even Montreal (Backxwash).
He recently performed twice at The Garrison in Toronto, opened by artist Myst Milano, and has recently embarked on a tour across the United States alongside Fat Tony.” The two of them have collaborated before on two songs; “Poet Laureate” in 2018 and “WATER” in 2021.
Cadence Weapon has a discography span of 23 releases, 5 of which are full-length albums (LPs) with an average run-time of 40 minutes. To date, he has a Polaris nomination in 2018 and a Polaris Award for this year.
The Concordian spoke to Pemberton about his recent release, the music-making process, and what his ambitions are. This interview was done just hours before Cadence Weapon won the Polaris Award.
TC: What does “Cadence Weapon” mean? Does it play a role in the songs you write?
RP: When I first came up with that, it was something of a mantra. “My cadence is my weapon, my cadence is my weapon,” and it just kind of stuck. It’s really a way of describing my music, my music being a weapon of change.
TC: Using this mantra of your music being a weapon for change, I’ve seen that, especially in your latest album, you’ve tackled a lot of issues concerning racial divide and systemic racism. How did that songwriting process start?
RP: Well, I wrote this entire album throughout the pandemic, and during the early months of it, I was really inspired by the protests of George Floyd. Seeing people organizing and becoming active and engaged against systemic racism and institutional racism that I’ve always noticed and my family would discuss it and suddenly it’s just on every TV screen in the world and people are noticing all the stuff that is pervasive in our society for so long, so that was a big inspiration for me to really go deeper in this album.
TC: How did you feel when you witnessed these topics shown on TV?
RP: For me, I felt really emboldened to discuss these things more openly, doing a lot of research in the form of reading books and getting deeper into these subjects because I think I’ve always touched on said topics in subtle ways but I felt like the moment that we were in culturally, it really called for me to speak truth to power, and to go all-in when it comes to the racism that I see not just in America but here in Canada as well.
TC: What style is your forte?
RP: When it comes to writing songs, particularly this album, I’ll get fragments of lyrics and snippets of flows and write them down into my notes app. Usually, I’ll listen to a beat over and over and then eventually the ideas and flow start coming out to me and then fill in the blanks. Particularly for the song “Africville’s Revenge” on Parallel World, I wrote that song during a run. I got into jogging over the pandemic, so I would run and then throughout the session I’d stop and write down ideas so I wouldn’t forget. A lot of the propulsive energy to the majority of the lyrics of this album does come from the urgency of the subject matter, but also the urgency in which I created them.
TC: How did you fit in and use pop culture references in your albums, notably in “Ghost” and in “Soju”?
RP: Particularly on “Ghost,” it’s not just the fact that I’m making references, it’s the meaning behind them. There’s a reason why I’m fitting them in there and there’s a reason for example why I bring up Fred Hampton on a song like that, “the ghost of my ancestors.”
TC: Which LP for you was the most fun in terms of features?
RP: Definitely Parallel Worlds. It’s kind of strange because it was all done remotely, but I definitely felt the energy from every collaborator, whether it was having phone calls, texting, or Zoom. It felt very futuristic and in line with the subject matter of the album, which is our relationship with the internet.
TC: How do you prepare for shows?
RP: I’ll usually rehearse a song for a little bit, but I’ll call myself an athlete that doesn’t train enough. I definitely need to practice more often!
TC: Myst Milano is opening for you, have you linked with them before for shows?
RP: Through North by Northeast, I got them to play a show that I was curating, this is our first time performing together. Shoutout to Myst Milano.! They are actually raised in Edmonton, so we have that connection, and I really like all the new music opportunities from them.
TC: You’re a Toronto-based rapper, so what’s your tie to Montreal and why was it important enough for you to mention Montreal many a time in your songs? Over the weekend I listened to a song of yours called “Five Roses” (a reference to Farine), hence why I asked.
RP: I have a bit of familiarity with Montreal because I lived there for 6 years, from 2009 to 2015. When I was working on my 2018 album I was mostly in Montreal, Hope In Dirt City [released May 2012] I also wrote when I was in the city. I feel like I’m just a Canadian guy, I’ve been across the country so much and thus have a sense of familiarity with audiences all over.
TC: You remixed songs from Lady Sovereign, Common, and Ghostface Killah. Which was your favourite experience?
RP: Oh well for me by far was the Lady Sovereign, I mean those other two were just bootlegs that I just made on my computer, but the Lady Sovereign one was actually the official remix that was commissioned by Island Records and it was also the first official remix that I did back in 2005. It was the first rap money I ever got. It was before I even had a record deal. I remember that I bought a pair of Nudie Jeans and a Bearbrick Doll and all kinds of early 2000s trinkets!
TC: What’s next for you?
RP: Thursday, I’m going to Denver to start a U.S. tour that’s going for the next month, touring across the states with Fat Tony, another rapper, and I have a book coming out called Bedroom Rapper. I wrote the book and it’s in the final stages right now but it’ll be coming out in May.
Photograph by Colin Medley