“I just felt an urgency to talk about the systemic inequality that was made more obvious than ever,” says the rapper on his latest record.
By: Sun Noor
Edmonton-born and now Toronto-based rapper, DJ, writer and poet, Roland “Rollie” Pemberton a.k.a Cadence Weapon weighs in on his surroundings through various art forms. His fifth record, Parallel World is undoubtedly one of the most compelling releases of the year. Despite lasting roughly 26 minutes, Cadence Weapon manages to weigh in on the never-ending systemic inequalities that continue to affect Black people in Canada, through an intricate and creative lens.
What particularly struck me about this record is the manner in which Cadence Weapon incorporates references surrounding Canadian history that are either forgotten or not taken into account, since they are usually not brought to the forefront. Canada’s involvement in creating and upholding systemic barriers that continue to affect marginalized communities are often not taken into account. It’s not until marginalized communities make noise that their issues are even considered.
The album’s opener “Africville’s Revenge,” sheds light on the oppression faced by once prosperous black communities in Canada. Africville was once a village located in Halifax was destroyed by the city in the 1960s, as an act of racism. Amber Valley, Alberta was once occupied by a large community of Black settlers who fled Jim Crow laws but slowly declined around the 1940s when people relocated to bigger cities. Hogan’s Alley was the unofficial name of Park Lane in Vancouver which housed many Black families, businesses and institutions. The majority of it was destroyed in 1970 to create the Georgia Viaduct.
Topics such as hyper surveillance, in “On Me,” double consciousness as a result of racial profiling in “Eye to Eye” as well as the mass displacement due to gentrification in “Skyline.” Even though the subject matter is quite heavy, it does not weigh down the record. There are also more lighthearted moments and lots of cultural references such as Martin Lawrence’s character in the 1999 film Blue Streak on “Play No Games.” This creates an ideal balance.
I caught up with Cadence Weapon prior to his stunning POP Montreal set and Polaris Prize win set to reflect on Parallel World, the importance of live music and his upcoming book, Bedroom Rapper.
You’re about to embark on a North American tour and have played a handful of shows exactly how it’s been.
“It’s been really strange just kind of getting back into the flow of it. It’s definitely not the way it was in 2019. I played a lot of shows that were in seated venues where everyone can’t get up and dance, it’s been really weird that way. I played a couple festivals like FME in Northern Quebec and Up Here Festival in Sudbury and I feel like it’s almost like a kind of public service now, performing live. I feel like it’s really cool to go places that don’t get shows all the time. Also now post pandemic, it’s it’s really nice to get people’s minds off of everything.”
Definitely, I went to the show you played in Montreal in August which was your first show back, the bean bag one. It was a really strange experience but really cool.
“Yeah, I was thinking they should just keep that forever. It was a vibe, I was feeling the energy from the crowd but it was also nice that people were able to like sit down and relax.”
Yeah, that should be the new wave, bean bag shows. We’re also days away from Polaris. Congratulations on being shortlisted again. How do you feel about that?
“I feel really good about it. I feel like this particular album is very meaningful to me. And I feel like it’s really, you know, I would be really happy to win but I feel like it’s really I’m really proud just to be considered this year, you know, especially with such great other nominees. It’s, I think it’s fine.”
Yeah, very diverse lineup this year, which is really cool.
“I love how diverse the lineup is this year, compared to the first year I was Polaris nominated back in 2006. Me and K’naan were the only (non-white) artists and now I’m no longer ‘the exception’ so it feels good.”
Hopefully they keep their nominees diverse and this isn’t a one time thing.
“I totally agree.”
Parallel World has been like on repeat release day for me. One thing I really enjoy about it is how it enables me to jus take everything in and reflect. Take me through how you pieced this record together and your thought process going into it?
“It’s interesting. Typically when I make an album, it’s a large conceptual idea. From the outset, I really like to storyboard on albums and I still write different ideas and themes and come up with it that way. I didn’t do it like that this time. It was very spontaneous, just coming out of the pandemic happening and the George Floyd protests, I was just seeing how people are getting more organized politically and I started getting more engaged politically. I got into more, I read more than I ever did. I read a lot of books, I read a lot of articles and did more research. I just felt like an urgency to talk about the systemic inequality that was made more obvious than ever.
You also incorporate lots of different themes, allowing people to have open conversations about surveillance and especially issues that specifically affect black people in Canada. Did you feel like you had to prevent yourself from like holding anything back when writing?
“Not at all. I wanted to be as like transparent and honest about each subject, especially when it came to racism. I think in the past maybe I was more reluctant to say certain things but I feel like as I get older and progress as an artists, I just kind of said fuck it. I just want to be like, ‘you know, yeah Trudeau blackface? I haven’t forgotten.’ I was surprised I didn’t hear any other artist really mentioned that in any art form in Canada. I guess there’s this thing with rappers, they don’t pretend they’re not from here and I’ve never been like that.”
“I feel like, it’s really important, specifically when it comes to like Black Canadian history. I really wanted to preserve it and talk about it as much as I can to keep it in the forefront of people’s minds. I find that a lot of this has been forgotten. Especially when you talk about people only bringing up Africville more recently, Amber Valley, there’s people out there that don’t even know that exists. So I feel like it’s a responsibility to just really keep it real about all that stuff.”
As a listener, it’s very refreshing to hear those themes be translated in music, as , not a lot of people are talking about that enough here. As an artistic person, would you say that taking in what like is happening around you inspires you in a way?
“Oh big time, that’s, that’s where I draw most of my inspiration. It’s just the world around me. That’s even goes down to hanging out with people, from a day to day basis. I really key in on specific sentences people say and stuff. Sometimes that can spin off into an entire song. I think if I was in an environment where I wasn’t able to be social, I probably wouldn’t make music at all. I wouldn’t be able to, so definitely my environment.”
“With this record, in particular, I was obsessively reading about politics and doing so much research. I wrote this article in Hazlitt, just about the transit based gentrification that’s happening in Little Jamaica in Toronto, and I went kind of down a rabbit hole with that, which ended up informing a lot of stuff on my album. It all is crazy because it all happened quite quickly. It really unfolded over a couple months and then I was like, ‘wow, I have an album. Typically i for me, I have trouble feeling urgency to produce music at a certain clip. I’ve had breaks between albums that are like four, six years so I was really happy that I was able to turn it around that quickly.”
Would you say that now more than ever, it’s important for artists to remain outspoken about the exploitative nature of the industry, especially when it comes to black artists?
“I think that’s crucially important. I feel like, I made my post, and I got a really big response from it. I feel like it’s important, I’m in a position where I’m not afraid, I don’t feel any pressure from anyone and I don’t feel like I need to hold back anything I say. I feel like I can empower other artists by speaking out about what I what I’ve experienced and that’s another responsibility that I felt more in recent years. When it comes to the equity that we have in our artistry, I feel like musicians and artists are aggressively exploited by the industry and it needs to stop. If I can help other artists not go through what I’ve gone through, that’s a big win for me.”
You’ve been working on your book Bedroom Rapper for about two years now and it’s going to be published next year, how’s that going?
“It’s going pretty well. I only have a couple chapters left, I’m in the tail end of finishing it. It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Writing a book is quite different from an album. It requires a certain level of sustained focus that is really hard to lock into but it’s been really cathartic. I’ve been writing about my career and my past and also writing essays about just different cultural subjects. I have an essay about trap music, an essay about DJing and dance music culture, an essay about my family, about Canada, and what I consider to be the myth of Canada, so I’m really excited for people to read it. I feel like people will get to know me better than they have through my records on this book.”
Would you say that the outcome of the book is going to match the initial vision you had for it?
“I think so. It’s going to go crazy. I feel very excited about people seeing that side of me because I’ve always had writing in my background. I’ve always approached music from a journalistic kind of perspective so I’m really stoked. I’m excited about the events that I want to have around this. I don’t want to have traditional book launch types of events, I want to do things where I do a reading or something and people come out but then I’m also going to DJ. It’ll be the first time in history I think this will go down.”
I’m excited to dive into that book next year. Since you’ll be performing at POP Montreal later on tonight, do you have a best POP memory either playing or attending?
“I have so many great memories playing POP! The first thing I think of is actually at Divan Orange with Silly Kissers. I was crowd surfing and I cut my hand on the ceiling fan. I think a lot of my best memories are all around the after parties and DJing all these different events. I remember this big rap party that was on Van Horne and just mad people came out. I feel like the whole cottage industry around the festival is kind of even more special than the actual festival itself.”
Lastly, what are some of your favourite albums at the moment?
“I’ve been listening to the new Baby Keem a lot, I’m really I think he’s really clever and comes up with all these really good flows. I find him very inspiring flow wise. I’ve been really enjoying that new Halsey album too, I never listened to their music before and the record is produced by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. It’s really got some great songs on it.”
Download Parallel World here
Cadence Weapon is currently on an American tour with Fat Tony which will culminate at the end of October. Click here to view the complete list and purchase tickets.
Header photo credit: Colin Medley