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.”
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.