Weapon of choice
Rollie Pemberton was a respectable Canadian music journalist, until he quit writing, changed his name, and reinvented himself as a rapper. Cadence Weapon talks to Jim Carroll
WHEN it came time for Rollie Pemberton to release his first tracks as Cadence Weapon, he knew exactly what he didn’t want to do. The Canadian rapper had paid his dues reviewing music for Pitchfork, the online musical oracle, and had his fill of dismal and dreary rap records.
“At Pitchfork I had a chance to review these big important albums, so I had a big audience for my writing style and for getting my message across to people,” says Pemberton. “But you also have to review a ton of shitty rap records. It was really hard to get excited about those middle-ish albums or to find a creative way to write about them.
“I mean, I was making music long before I started writing for Pitchfork. But those constant reminders about how much shit music was out there were good for me because I learned what not to do when it came to my own stuff.”
Music reviewers have no trouble getting excited about the young gunslinger from Edmonton. After the dynamic rhymes and razor-sharp funk of his Breaking Kayfabe debut, Pemberton returns to the arena with another sling full of lyrical zingers and impressive, energetic beats.
Afterparty Babies, album No 2, is full of mischief and manifestos, aware of the need to both rock the house and provide food for the brain. Pemberton exhibits plenty of smarts, such as on the glorious opener, Do I Miss My Friends? with its low-slung a cappella doo-wop, and at those times when the energetic beats and would-be hip-house resurrections are perfectly in tune with his vocabulary.
The title, he explains, was inspired by his dad. The Brooklyn native was something of a hip-hop pioneer in downtown Edmonton and hosted an influential radio show.
“He said I was an afterparty baby, so I wanted to make an album of music that afterparty babies could be created to. I’ve always been into electronic music and the first record was in that style, but this one is much more electronic and it’s also much more pop-orientated.
“I suppose it was a natural progression for me getting more into dancefloor culture and becoming more interested in DJ- ing and what that entailed. I had definite ideas about the production and wanted beats which would be complementary to what I was writing. I subconsciously started to make music which I could hear mixed into a DJ’s set.”
For Pemberton, such adventurousness is second nature and he can’t understand why so few of his peers show daring in the beats department. “A lot of hip-hop acts find one thing which works and just stick with that. They might experiment with something once, but if it becomes popular, they’ll keep doing the same thing over and over again. That’s something I want to stay away from.”
The Canadian is fully aware that mainstream love may well come his way. “Anything is possible, especially when you have people like Diplo and Santogold breaking, and you have Grey’s Anatomy picking up on stuff.” But it’s not his main aim.
“Of course, yes, it would be cool if the mainstream clicked with what I was doing, but I’m not losing any sleep over them coming or not coming onboard. It’s not why I make cuts sound the way they do. For me, the idea of being an experimental artist and being really creative is about pushing myself all the time. I want the next record I make to be completely different to Afterparty Babies. It’s important for me that I don’t repeat myself. Sure, it might have my signature on it and my vibe, but it will not the same as any of my records which went before it.”
Pemberton says he’s looking forward to working out how Afterparty Babies will sound when he starts to play the album tracks live. That was one of the big learning curves he experienced after the release of his first album.
“I just never thought about it. I made the album and then I realised I had to play it live so I didn’t really know how to present my music to people in a live setting. But I’ve got a lot better at that now and it’s become easier to engage the crowd and get them excited by and inter- ested in what I am doing. It’s becoming equally as interesting as making music and, yeah, I do think about how a track will work live when I’m in the studio.”
Last year Pemberton toured the US and Canada on a double-bill with Owen “Final Fantasy” Pallett. The opportunity to tour with another idiosyncratic talent, Pemberton says, was inspiring.
“I think we’re both people who want to stay away from doing what people think we should be doing or playing. We don’t want to be obvious; we want to bring something different to an audience who may not be too familiar with what we’re doing. We’re looking at the aesthetic and how we can further our particular genres. Owen does that really well and I learned a lot from being with him.”
The live show as it currently exists may be short on bells and whistles, but Pemberton thinks that’s part of its charm. “I’m trying to harken back to the basis for a live rap show to begin with, that thing of a DJ with two turntables and a dude rapping and the room rocking. It’s like a new take on Grandmaster Flash’s The Message, you know.”