'Where my roots are': Edmonton's Cadence Weapon returns home and raps nostalgic

He may be living in Toronto these days, but even as a musician who has worked with producers of some of Canada's premier artists, Cadence Weapon returns home for Thanksgiving.

Now based in Toronto, Cadence Weapon talks McDavid, Frank Oliver and his upcoming record

Edmonton-born rapper Cadence Weapon is working on a new self-titled album. (Cadence Weapon/Twitter)

He may be living in Toronto these days, but even as a musician who has worked with producers of some of Canada's premier artists, Cadence Weapon returns home for Thanksgiving.

Born Roland "Rollie" Pemberton, he was back in his hometown on the long weekend to perform for the city's Up+DT Festival.

Cadence Weapon returns to the city now and then — he performed at last year's Up+DT Festival, too — but making it back to Oliver Square this weekend, he was shocked.

"It changes so much here," Pemberton told Portia Clark on CBC's Radio Active Friday. "It's been just rapid change."

The city has changed but so has he.

He is rethinking his 2005 song Oliver Square in light of recent discussions about Frank Oliver, the former Edmonton MP who was instrumental in pushing Indigenous people off traditional land in the early 1900s.

"It definitely has changed how I feel," Pemberton said. "I'm trying to figure out ways to still perform it but not honour him in any way.

"I'm working on what phonetically can rhyme with Oliver," he said.

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The song, using a mix of stadium organ and heavy synth sounds, tosses out references to live-music bars in Edmonton that no longer exist, including New City, Victory and Savoy.

It's this type of nostalgia that compels Pemberton to play the song when he's back home to visit.

Working with renowned producers

He's working on new songs too.

Pemberton said he's recorded more than 80 songs and is working on an upcoming self-titled record.

He has released three singles in 2017, including My Crew (Woooo), produced by Kaytranada and Don't Talk To Me, produced by FrancisGotHeat, who has worked with Drake.

He said Toronto's busy lifestyle pushed him to work harder.

"I've made twice as many songs, for instance, than when I lived in Montreal — which is a very nice place to hang out, get baguettes and drink wine in the park," Pemberton said. "But sometimes it can be hard to focus on completing some projects."

But while living in Toronto and Montreal inspires him creatively — My Crew was inspired by Montreal's underground nightlife scene — it's his home city that continues to weave itself through Pemberton's discography.

Connor McDavid

Cadence Weapon's other single released in 2017, Connor McDavid, was a major hit in Edmonton just in time for the Oilers' first playoff run in more than a decade. McDavid captained that team and led them to the second round that year.

Pemberton references many Oilers, both former, current and retired, such as Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Georges Laraque.

But Pemberton said the song isn't just about the Oilers and McDavid.

"The song is also kind of about myself," he said, referencing the lyrics, "I was on the road at 19, making fans scream."

Cadence Weapon released his first record, Breaking Kayfabe, in 2005 at the age of 19.

"There's a real duality to the song," he said.

Cadence Weapon was set to perform Connor McDavid in front of his original and McDavid's adopted city on Saturday, but halfway through the first song, the crowd at 9910 began to cough and wheeze.

It seemed like a heavy perfume, but tasted like pepper spray. The crowd first moved into the downstairs foyer area, but was soon forced to leave. Cadence Weapon stopped performing soon after.

He later tweeted the venue was shut down because security was bear sprayed and the substance had seeped into the venue.

To make up for it, Cadence Weapon was added to the Sunday bill at Brixx Bar & Grill. 

Even on short notice and a shortened set, his energy filled Brixx Bar & Grill Sunday night. The crowd, chanting "Connor McDavid" right back at the stage, bopped up and down to the beat. He was home.

"I never forget where my roots are," Pemberton said. "Here, in Edmonton."


Kyle Muzyka


Kyle Muzyka is a Métis journalist from ayahciyiniw-sâkahikanihk in Treaty 8. He works for CBC Radio. Reach him at kyle.muzyka@cbc.ca, on Twitter or via Keybase.

With files from Tanara McLean