He sounds like a proud dad boasting about his young son, but there’s a poignant story behind a sampled line that appears on Cadence Weapon’s brand new, self-titled album. “If I don’t get you, my son will,” Weapon’s father, Teddy Pemberton, says on “Own This,” the first song on the Edmonton-born, now Toronto-based rapper’s record.

The elder Pemberton was a DJ at college radio station CJSR-FM 88.5 in Edmonton, where he hosted a popular show called The Black Experience in Sound. He’s widely credited with introducing hip-hop to the western city. “When I first heard that line I couldn’t believe it,” Cadence, born Rollie Pemberton, says. “My mom had a bunch of tapes of my dad on the radio and I was going through them, and I was like, ‘Mom, why didn’t you tell me about this?’”

Cadence explained that the sentiment he sampled speaks to a recurring theme in his dad’s life. “He had opportunities to be on more mainstream stations,” says Weapon, “but he wasn’t willing to make any compromises – whether it was the music he wanted to play, or how he talked on the air. I get the sense he didn’t achieve his promise in his lifetime, and I feel I’m doing that for him.

The rapper says his dad’s refusal to compromise and “go against who you really are” made a huge impact on him. And he’s been keeping that legacy alive ever since he dropped his debut album, Breaking Kayfabe, in 2006. The album was critically acclaimed and earned Weapon props for his smart, witty rhymes and experimental sounds.

Those elements are in full effect on Cadence Weapon, his first album since 2012’s Hope in Dirt City. You’ll hear phenomenal flows and colossal beats, from left field, on every one of the album’s 12 tracks. Explaining his six-year absence from the recording studio, Weapon says he’s never felt the urgency to constantly release music. Besides, he spent time writing a book of poetry (Magnetic Days), hosting weekly and monthly poetry events, and estimates that he deejayed 15 times a month in Montréal (where he lived in between his times in Edmonton and in Toronto).

Oh, and he also wrote about 100 songs in the space of four years. “It’s, like, a very cathartic thing for me,” he says, describing the process. “I just have to record a certain number of songs each month to make myself happy. I like to get the ideas out and I just follow the music.”

  “Basically, with Cadence Weapon, expect the unexpected.”

Over the length of the album, Edmonton’s former poet laureate waxes poetic on rampant consumerism, living as a black man in Canada, Toronto’s crazy real estate market, and micro-aggressions. Heavy topics, to be sure, but Weapon gets that folks don’t want to be beat down with rhetoric and polemic. He says he’s found a way to make the medicine go down.

“When you want to write about a social issue, the best way to approach it is not with blunt force, it’s with subtlety and humour,” he says. “And that’s what makes these songs work.”

Standing apart from his time
The potpourri of sounds on Cadence Weapon differs starkly from current commercial hip-hop. “It definitely feels like people found a sound that’s working and it became the sound of rap all over the world,” Weapon says. “But that’s never been a concern for me. I just like making the music I make, and I feel my approach benefits me at a time like today, because it really lets me stand out. It’s tempting to just rap about a bunch of cool stuff, but I feel that’s not what people come to a Cadence Weapon album for. Few people rap about these subjects or think about them the way that I do. That’s my strength, I focus on that, and that’s what I’ve done with this album.”

Songs like “The Afterparty.” “I wanted to do an extended metaphor,” says Weapon, “and I wanted to do something that was a recurring theme in my music: the ideas of after-parties. I jammed out on a few different themes, and figured out the flows. Once I started getting some stuff that actually sounded good, I’d replace the random sounds with words, and I’d start formulating them into rhymes and ideas.”

He says the song is about existentialism, and the after-life, and says it refers to “the big after-party in the sky. It’s me taking inventory of all the good and bad things I’ve done, and thinking about how important it’s been for me to be on the guest list for different events. But the question I ask is, ‘What about that final list? Will I be on St. Peter’s list?’”

Cadence says the jam is meant to be playful, “but it’s also serious, because I’m wondering whether I’m gonna get in or not, and whether all these concepts we have on earth even matter. I look at the All Lives Matter and the white supremacist movements, and it seems like everyone feels the world’s gonna end.”

He agrees when we suggest that Cadence Weapon is an album for our times: “Definitely. I wanted to make something that’s contemporary, but musically forward-looking. I didn’t want something that sounded stagnant, or tied to a specific trend. Basically, with Cadence Weapon, expect the unexpected.”

Which was the unwritten mantra of his dad’s radio show, The Black Experience in Sound. The name of the show captures the essence of what Cadence does, and he agrees it would make a great title for his next album.

“His show was similar to the record,” says Weapon. “You might hear some old-school funk, some Nas, the 2001: A Space Odyssey movie theme, some Jimi Hendrix. He was such a rule-breaker.”

Like father, like son.

Keith KounaIn October of 2017, Keith Kouna launched Bonsoir Shérif, a scathing affair that sees the songwriter being more corrosive than ever before, echoing the vibe of his recent stint with Les Goules (and their album Coma, released the previous year). His latest proudly stands out as a witness to troubled times, the story of a man experiencing the apparent loss of control of his society and community. “I mostly believe I did the album I needed to do at the moment I did it,” says Kouna.

Written mostly in the period between the French and American presidential elections in 2016, Kouna admitted, in Montréal daily Le Devoir, to being intoxicated by social media and the commentaries disseminated in various news sources. “It pisses me off, but I still tune in from time to time, because I need to remind myself that these people really exist.”

How does he feel now, a few months after the album’s release? “I’ve relaxed about it,” says Kouna. “I like to take a break from their existence.” Which isn’t to say he’s no longer lucid about the state of affairs. “I think we’ve just embarked on a long, bad dream,” he says. “I feel there’s a gaping social fracture, a kind of soft and hypocritical totalitarianism. And general indifference. These are complex and difficult times to gauge with any kind of precision, but let’s just say impressions and instinct are quite somber…”

Flirting with an immoderate temper, Kouna approached this social climate with an all-or-nothing approach. “I can get hyper-absorbed by current affairs, by songwriting – just as I also have long periods of fluttering, and complete disconnect,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s a survival instinct, but it surely is a counterweight to my lack of moderation.”

This is reflected in Kouna’s many incarnations: songwriter, Goules frontman, or re-visiting Schubert in 2013’s Le voyage d’hiver. Ambition clearly isn’t an issue for him, and he masterfully manages his various, overlapping creative threads. “I know quite quickly what my direction will be with this or that project and, in the case of Bonsoir Shérif, although it’s not a personal or emotional album, it remains a personal position statement. Les Goules is more abstract, you could almost say more narrative. Keith could not have sung “Coat de cuir.” Just as “Poupée” would’ve sounded weird played by Les Goules. After that, there’s the state of mind… But there’s never anything definitive. This time around, with the release by Les Goules the previous year, I felt like sticking to this direction. That’s why there are similarities.”

Yet, he still feels a need to add some nuance. “I’m really not the type of guy who’s permanently in a writing phase,” says Kouna. “I can be quite lazy, at times. I still surprise myself! I work in periods of rushes, under pressure, and somewhat last-minute. Right now, I haven’t written anything in awhile, and I don’t feel too bad about it… But when I’m in the middle of it, I become just as excessive and obsessed – so much so that I can barely sleep. Plus, one thing for sure: I don’t like repeating myself.”

That’s why he challenges himself: to stay alert, and as far away from any kind of comfort zone afforded by success. “If I get into a project, whatever it may be, it’s because I feel like it,” he says. “And part of it is something like a desire for an anti-career. Taking side roads, pauses – it keeps the whole journey dynamic. There’s something anti-corporate in there that suits me. I think it’s beneficial for me to explore, and force myself to take different approaches: Composing with the Goules or Schubert in mind, or whatever the next project will be.”

And although he’ll hit the road in a few days in Shérif mode – and spend better part of 2018 there – he’s already started working on the next project. He’s discreet about it, since it’s all still embryonic, but what’s becoming clear is that it will share the same lofty ambitions as Voyage d’hiver… “Right now, I’m having ideas that are not unlike that ambitious, obnoxious project,” Kouna says. “It’s exciting to embark on such major projects. The Voyage experience was such an enriching journey. I’d embark on a project like that in a heartbeat.”

The most ambitious journeys: that’s all we can wish for him – and ourselves, for music yet to come.

Both in Québec and worldwide, there are too few female screen composers. Louise Tremblay’s professional path stems from a unique opportunity that she grabbed with equal parts passion and determination. The very tone of her voice, rapid-fire speech, and consistently generous answers to questions are obvious indicators that this musician cherishes her chosen path.

Tremblay, who holds a Master’s degree in piano performance from McGill University, was also, for many years, a piano instructor and accompanist. She often observed and commented on the work of her life partner, James Gelfand, himself a screen composer. “I’d hear music, rhythms, an instrument over what he presented to me,” says Tremblay. “One day, while he was overloaded with work, he asked me to come and write down what I was hearing. So, in 2006, we started simply with sound editing on the software Cubase. That’s how I learned to place music, entrances and exits, cutting and re-composing small sections so that the music would fit the images better.”

Louise TremblayHer first work as a composer came a few months later for the National Geographic show Naked Science. She started composing music banks after a discussion with the show’s producer and director. “I remember we hadn’t even seen any images, but still had to come up with music. We’d been given rather vague instructions, such as the fact that it would take place in the mountains, and there would be images of planes. The pieces needed to be two to three minutes long – which is comparatively long.” The result was very much appreciated, and confirmed Tremblay’s long-standing intuition that she was an able composer, who knew how to paint images with musical colours.

This cemented the birth of the all-star team known as Tremblay-Gelfand. For more than a decade now, the duo creates about six film or documentary scores per year. This uncommon productivity is apparent when one takes a look at their impressive resumé. Their recent work on the movie Swept Under earned the SOCAN Film Music Award at the 2017 Montréal Gala.

Although they’re united in composition, each of them has preserved their own sacred, personal creative territory. At the onset of any project, Louise and James each work separately with their copy of the scenario. They each carry out their own research for musical colour, harmonies, atmospheres and instruments in their own studio. Yes, the Tremblay-Gelfand team operates two separate studios on two different floors in order to provide each of them with their own composing space.

Following this solo stage, they pool their resources in preparation of the first creative meeting with the producer and director. That’s when all the various proposals are presented. “Then, we re-unite our creative intuitions,” says Tremblay. “We present them but don’t say who wrote what. We want that to remain neutral. We want to steer clear of any bias.”

Next to reading the script, Tremblay believes those meetings are essential to any film or documentary project. That’s when a direction is determined, a vision established. “As composers, we need to understand the expectations of the director and producer who don’t necessarily have a musical vocabulary to express what they want,” she says. “Our job is to clearly understand what they liked and didn’t like, and why. One needs to be a very good listener to do that.”

Once the direction is determined, the duo pools their strengths, and work as one, in the same direction. “From that point on, it doesn’t matter who composes what, and who does what,” says Tremblay. “All that matters is delivering what was asked, and we both check our egos to achieve that.” Tremblay admits having learned a lot from Gelfand, who had a considerable head-start in the field with his 30 years of experience as a screen composer.

But she says that she’s learned the most during those meetings with producers and directors. According to her, it’s not talent alone that brings in contracts for composers. It’s also their capacity to listen to their teams; their flexibility with regards to what is asked of them; and their detachment from their compositions. “I’m a bit of a teenager and James is super adult,” says Tremblay. “I learned a lot by watching him interact with people. He’s so adaptable, such a good listener and he never takes things personally.”

Despite all of her acquired experience, Louise Tremblay is still clearly motivated by a thirst for constantly learning new things, whether on her own, or in a team, because hers is a trade where one needs to endlessly re-invent oneself.