Cadence Weapon: 5 songs that changed my life
The Toronto-based rapper looks back at the 'freaks' and 'weirdos' that inspired his career
Rollie Pemberton is a proud weirdo. The artist, who has been performing under the name Cadence Weapon for the past 15 years, has always been a fearless explorer of sounds, blending electronic, hip hop and a healthy dose of U.K. rap influence into something that's hard to categorize. But Pemberton's music aims to be something even bigger and more transcendent than a simple genre label: he wants to create music for the future.
"I want to make music of the time that I'm in, but I can't help but make futuristic shit," he explains, over Zoom. That impulse to experiment and craft songs that are outside the box is highly informed by the music he listens to. As a kid, the tunes that his parents played around him exposed a world of possibilities, letting a young Pemberton know that it was OK to be weird. "I just love to see the weirdos win," he explains. "I just love to see people think differently and put the whole of themselves in it, and be as weird as they possibly want — and have it work."
He adds: "If you put two artists in front of me, and one of them does a really good version of something that I've heard before and the other does a really sketchy version of something that is unlike anything I've heard before, [the latter] is the one I want. That's what I'm attracted to."
When he first heard each of the five songs listed below, which Pemberton says changed his life, a new part of his creativity was unlocked. And with each track, the vision of the future came more and more into sharp focus. What it looked and sounded like was unabashed, bold and provocative.
With his fifth studio album, titled Parallel World (out April 30), Pemberton balances the past, present and future. His lyrics — his most politically charged yet, discussing surveillance state, racial profiling, gentrification and more — are grounded in longstanding issues that we continue to confront today. But the album's sound is meant to launch listeners into a distant space and dimension where beats fly at you like spaceships in orbit. Songs warp and evolve, always keeping us on our toes, illustrating both the thrill and anxiety of looking ahead when our minds can feel so bolted down in the present.
To mark the release of Parallel World, CBC Music hopped in a time machine to revisit the songs that had the biggest impact on Pemberton, and the music of Cadence Weapon.
'Freaks Come Out at Night,' Whodini
"This song is really important to me. My parents were really big fans of Houdini. It's weird to say that, I guess, but my household was not like everybody else's. My dad was a DJ and he used to play all kinds of funk and rap, especially early rap. And [this song] is a great example of early rap. I feel like that song is kind of the early example of my entire music career because it's kind of this synthy rap music where people are talking about social issues and just examining the social scene. It's just such a great concept, and what they're talking about in that song is a certain kind of New York that I've always been attracted to and interested in, the intersection between the Black rap scene and the danceteria, '80s moment of Talking Heads and Blondie, and how these scenes used to cross over so frequently. I feel like that is the sweet spot where I think music was its best, ever."
'Five Man Army,' Massive Attack
"Blue Lines, the album by Massive Attack, is hugely influential to me. They really pointed a way to a different direction of rapping. They were the first people who were rapping really chill and not super high energy in the early '90s, and I really resonated with that. They would rap about things other people wouldn't, and they kind of identified themselves in a way that was not as macho. On this song, when Tricky's like, 'She's calling me honey,' that's not really something you were hearing rappers say. You know, with gender roles and stuff, it was way more advanced than a lot of the American rap at the time. And musically, it was really cool because it was just such an amazing combination of not just rap, but dub and all these Black musical subcultures. I was always interested in all of them individually, but I'd never really heard them all put together like that. So it was just like a musical evolution. The whole trip-hop scene was really influential to me, especially Massive Attack and Tricky, specifically."
'Windowlicker,' Aphex Twin
"I feel like listening to Aphex Twin radicalized me. It really took me into this new world. To me, it's all beats. That was the way I was seeing it like, 'Oh, people should rap over stuff like this.' And 'Windowlicker' was my dream beat. It was the ultimate beat I could imagine, and I couldn't believe it was real. It was just a living beat, it's always changing and growing and going in all these different directions, and it was unlike anything I had heard before and it really pointed a direction towards what music could be.
"One of the things I love so much about it is it's electronic and you feel like it's instrumental, but it's not. It's got these wordless sounds as these chants, and it's so hooky. To me, it just shows how much of a genius Aphex Twin is because he's one of the most technically skilled musicians, period. But I feel like, with 'Windowlicker,' he was just proving that he can make a pop song. He really changed the world in his own image with that song. It just really blew my mind, completely."
Editor's note: strong language warning.
'Get ur Freak On,' Missy Elliott
"This is a collective thing — not just Missy Elliott, but also Timbaland. This is one of the most fire Timbaland beats; during this era, he was just red hot. They produced such a great amount of unbelievable, futuristic tunes. This is just another example of taking weird, strange ideas and turning them into huge pop songs, and bringing them into the mainstream in unexpected ways. I think all the greatest Missy Elliott songs are very structurally unique. People don't really give her enough credit as a songwriter because all these asides ... and on top of that, the sample — people were not rapping over stuff like that. People had not thought about, not only going into that region [India] for making beats, but also rapping over stuff that doesn't have conventional drum patterns and conventional time signatures. It's wild. It still feels as exciting today as when I first heard it."
'I Luv U,' Dizzee Rascal
"I feel like Dizzee Rascal is like the U.K. version of me. When I first heard his music, I had a really intense reaction to it. I was already making my music by the time I heard Dizzee Rascal, but then I was like, oh my God, this is like a kindred spirit. I felt like I wasn't alone. I feel like 'I Luv U' is like another lodestar for me where I always go back to it. You want to have that shock of the 'new' as much as you can, like I want to give that to people all the time. I want people to listen to the music that I make and be like, 'I've never heard anything like this.' Because when that song came out, I was like, the future is here. Like, this future that everyone's been talking about, that you see in movies… like, when you're watching The Fifth Element and you wonder, 'What's the future?' This is it. This is the music that soundtracks what I thought the future was supposed to be."
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