Edmonton rapper Cadence Weapon says he puts art before money

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Canadian hip-hop artist and poet Rollie Pemberton doesn’t take his newfound sense of independence lightly.

After nearly two decades in the underground music scene, it took winning the 2021 Polaris Music Prize for the album Parallel worldunder his stage name Cadence Weapon, before he felt people were really starting to take him seriously.

Six months after that win, the lingering notion he once had of being viewed solely as a black rapper or entertainer is gone. More and more people seem to see him as a “public figure” now, he says, someone who can speak the truth about Canadian politics, racial profiling and a range of other important topics.

“It really emboldens me,” he says of how change influences his new music.

“It makes me want to push the boundaries in a different way than I did before.”

Amid a winter thaw, Pemberton sits on a park bench in northwest Toronto, looking ahead while trying to keep his crisp new pair of Yeezy sneakers out of the mud puddles.

In a few days, he’ll be flying to sunnier Los Angeles to record the sequel to his Polaris-winning album, which will explore the society about to be swallowed up by the metaverse.

Rapper Rollie Pemberton is preparing to follow up his Polaris Prize-winning album with a project about society engulfed by the metaverse. (Step Montani)

If you don’t listen to hip-hop music or haven’t heard of Cadence Weapon, Pemberton hopes to change that very soon.

He will publish a book in the spring that pays homage to his eclectic musical roots and he considers the possibility of one day running for political office. In 2009, he began a two-year term as Poet Laureate for his hometown of Edmonton.

He boldly names Stevie Wonder, David Bowie and David Byrne among the multifaceted artists who inspire him.

At 36, Pemberton displays a clear-headed perspective around his goals after a tumultuous start to his career that included a falling out with his record label and an unexpected recent resurgence in his career.

In 2005, Cadence Weapon burst onto the rap scene with the critically acclaimed track Break Kayfabe, the first of his three Polaris-selected albums.

With Parallel World, Toronto rapper Cadence Weapon has won the 2021 Polaris Music Prize. (Graphic by CBC)

But in the years that followed, the relationship with his independent label Upper Class Recordings soured, with Pemberton alleging they pocketed the fees he won as Poet Laureate and left him begging them to write a check. to pay his rent.

By 2015, he says the label had stopped responding to his emails and had effectively gone out of business. Since then, he has been trying to recover the rights to his albums.

A request for comment was submitted on Thursday via his former label’s website – where the most recent post is dated August 2019. The posts went unanswered.

“I always think of art first”

None of this seems to have left him cynical, but it certainly colors a lot of his motivation, including how he uses his platform today. For example, he says he won’t sell his integrity for a shill on most trade goods.

“I don’t want to sponsor alcohol or anything that’s harmful,” he says by way of example.

“I never do anything that goes against my values.”

He returns to the idea of ​​artistic purity a few times, naming rapper Chuck D and the late poet Gil Scott-Heron as two public figures he respects for not “trying to make as much money as possible in their lifetimes. “.

“It’s not really part of my whole artistic discipline,” he adds. “I really don’t care about the money. I always think of the art first.”

Parallel world holds this truth close to its center. Written by Pemberton as he witnessed the 2020 George Floyd protests, the album is unflinching in the way it offers a Canadian perspective on policing, gentrification and this country’s history, all against beats beating electronics.

Upcoming projects

A deluxe edition out Friday builds on the existing 10 tracks with six remixes that inject new energy into every verse.

There is an electronic overhaul of Connect from the Grammy-nominated Montreal producer CFCF and an understated jazz version of Don’t play any games by Juno-nominated Toronto musician Harrison.

Pemberton says he views the extended version as a creative transition to his upcoming album, which will lean into hyperpop — an edgy subgenre that originated from SoundCloud and is characterized by punchy beats and glitchy electronic elements.

Pemberton travels to Los Angeles to work on his latest project. (Matt Dunlap)

Before this is over, he will follow his poetry collection 2014 Magnetic dayswho captured a slice of Canadian youth culture at the time, with a new book.

Chamber Rapper: Cadence Weapon on Hip-Hop, Resistance, and Music Industry Survival is what he describes as a collection of stories and essays that pay homage to the Canadian music scenes he has inhabited over the years. Its release is scheduled for May 31.

In it, he considers Canada’s often overlooked underground music culture, from the Prairie rap scene to Montreal loft parties, writing stories and essays on the page of artists who influenced him but never really had it. their due.

“I was in a pre-Drake environment [when] the idea of ​​a Canadian rapper to the outside world was comical,” he said.

“I always felt like an outsider. Before, I was a bit disappointed. But now, I love it. Because I just do what I want.”

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